Monday, June 9, 2008

Trevor's Review of Gordimer's The Conservationist

I am ambivalent about this book.

On the one hand, it had some brilliant parts. The overall themes of apartheid are incredibly subtle but powerful. Many of the passages are very poetic and evocative. At the end I could honestly say that I felt I'd been through a good experience. She does a great job showing the awkward relationship between Mehring and his black workers. The dead man found at the beginning haunts the rest of the novel--and it works brilliantly.

On the other hand, most of the time I read it I was annoyed by what to me felt like an over self-indulgent, self-conscious style. I felt like I was at one of those poetry readings where the poet is reading the poem entitled something like "A purple evening on the hood of my 1965 Mustang with the engine turned off thinking about existentialism while the moon rose over the hills to the East: A Reverie"--the kind of writing that lays out details in a way not meant to be descriptive but to sound profound, even when they are not. It doesn't help that she starts a chapter "Golden reclining nudes of the desert." It's there at the beginning, one line, with a break between it and the next paragraph. I'm just not into this kind of writing. I enjoy a more simple, understated style.

I'm sure a lot of this was just my approach to the novel, but I couldn't help feel like the narrator was drolling on and on in this way, enunciating alliteration and assonance to show how clever it was. I was most touched by the simple passages, not by the ones that were obviously worked and reworked to have a rhythm that screams at the reader--look at this rhythm!

This is just my personal taste. I don't want to discourage anyone about this novel. I feel awfully pretentious saying all of that about a Booker Prize winner, let alone about a Nobel Prize winner. Griping about style in a book of obvious substantive value is a probably petty. Gordimer's writing is important. She has been incredibly progressive with her portrayals of race, and this book was one of those important works. Unfortunatlely, this particular book felt dated to me. The Best of the Booker judges have a bit different taste than I do--I didn't feel like this book really made it out of the early 1980s.
3 stars out of 5.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice review! I will read the book, because I am reading them all. But having just finished Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black, i had some of the same reactions to Gordimer's writing that you had. So I need a little break before I pick up another.