So, having seriously thought I might never want to pick up a contemporary novel for a very long time after this year's Bookerthon, to my amazement Damon Galgut's The Impostor published by Grove Atlantic jumped right into my hand and onto the Now Reading list with ease. I'm not sure I'd read much from this publisher until White Tiger by Aravind Adiga hit the Booker list, but a succession of highly recommended books seem to be coming from them at the moment.
I shouldn't be surprised that I enjoyed The Impostor so much because this was one of those books mentioned time and again as Bookerconsternation at the sins of omission spread around the internet. I was sulking about The Spare Room by Helen Garner, plenty more people sulking about The Impostor...or perhaps it was only me who sulked and stamped a foot? I missed Damon Galgut's first novel, The Good Doctor which was Booker listed and will now be sure to read it.
The Impostor is quite the page-turner of a riveting read though if I'm honest, in the boiling down to the essence of the thing, it's not really a page-turner of a plot.Don't be deceived because I mean that in the most complimentary way, it all leads me to conclude that Damon Galgut has achieved some masterly stroke of literary sleight of pen with all the other components of this brilliant and highly readable novel.
Adam Napier, down on his luck in both life and love, heads out to live in his brother's isolated shack on the edge of a small South African town and several hundred miles from city life where quite by chance meets up with an old school friend. Adam can't actually quite recall Kenneth Canning, 'a small sad sketch of a man' but he is rapidly sucked into his life and dodgy business dealings,
'The travesty that Canning is cooking up is made of greed and absurdity, with a big moral hollowness at the core.'
Canning remembers and insists on calling Adam by his rather embarrassing school nickname of Nappy and when you learn that Canning's wife is called Baby, it seems likely that Nappy will soon be somehow folded neatly around Baby, with or without pins.
This is latter-day South Africa, post-apartheid, post truth and reconciliation but a country Damon Galgut would have us know is still rife with problems of corruption and dishonesty. People like Adam who has lost his job to the black intern he has trained through the process of rebalancing in South Africa, remained morally confused about their stance, often ambivalent and indecisive and, in Adam's case, ripe for duping,
'It was this fault-line in his psyche that he thought of as his new South African self.'
Adam seems not even remotely in touch with his life, he is the displaced person in the country to which he used to feel he belonged, but showing a remarkable lack of bitterness or prejudice in spite of it all. There is an immediate sense of cryptically veiled menace and mystery, and I bought into that sense of remoteness and displacement as a reader because all is not what it seems from start to finish. As Adam battles the tangled but ever-returning weeds in his back yard on a daily basis it's not difficult to sense the analogy with the rapidly encroaching tide of something uncontrollable that seems to beckon in this country where so much has been unpicked and reworked.
This is a book of many layers; about a country, a nation, a people and individuals and a good question I held in mind as I read was ' exactly who is the impostor of the title? There are multiple candidates and I reached no firm conclusions, just about everyone was being someone they were not, even the country itself seemed to be struggling to shrug off its old self and pull on a new persona, but Damon Galgut doesn't miss a trick with this book, if the mask slips he spots it, all of which made for an utterly absorbing read.
It's good to know there is reading life post-Booker.