Three to spend your book tokens on; set in South Africa, the Carolinas and the north of England; a Michael Johnston end-of-year book review.

doublenegativevladislavicThere are several shelves worth of novels telling the grim story of South Africa’s apartheid years – Alan Paton, Doris Lessing, André Brink, J M Coetzee and many more – but not so many that explore the Mandela years.  One book of the new wave of post-apartheid novels is the excellent fictional memoir by Ivan Vladislavić, Double Negative [London: & Other Stories, 2013].  The narrator is Neville Lister whom we meet in his teenage dropout years.  When he quits university, his frustrated father arranges for him to spend a day with fictional famous photographer Saul Auerbach; a day which affects the rest of his life.  To avoid conscription and being sent to fight on the country’s borders Lister, like many others, ‘escapes’ to London but, as the cliché puts it, you can take Lister out of South Africa but you cannot take South Africa out of Lister.  Ten years later he returns to pick up some of the threads of his life that have become unravelled.  Finally, we encounter him in later middle age, now a professional photographer and hence an acute observer of what has changed, what has morphed and what has not altered.  This is a case of still waters that run deeply.  On the surface the pace and the language is gentle but, thanks to the skill of writing, the reader becomes more and more aware of the turbulence beneath the surface.  I will rate this 7.5 out of 10 (and declare an interest; I am a subscriber-supporter of the publisher And Other Stories.) Read more ...