Caught in the current

This is my review of No Time Like the Present by Nadine Gordimer.

Having admired years ago Nadine Gordimer's anti-apartheid novels which won her the 1991 Nobel Prize for Literature, I was impressed to find that, approaching ninety, she is still writing, dissecting the state of "free" South Africa.

This is the tale of a mixed-race couple adjusting to a world in which they no longer need to conceal their relationship, but also find that the freedom to make choices and lead a "normal" life often highlights cultural differences they did not notice when plotting undercover dissidence, plus there is the growing realisation that their new black leaders succeeding Mandela are often deeply flawed and corrupt, to such an extent that it might even be preferable to emigrate, the supreme irony in view of what Steve and Jabu have sacrificed for their country.

Although I wanted to like this book, to learn from Gordimer's deep knowledge and insights into South Africa, the stream of consciousness style proved a barrier that soon became insuperable. When I managed to tune into the fragmented phrases alternating with garrulous paragraphs, I could see that I was being enabled to sense the characters' diverse, fleeting thoughts as directly as if they were my own. However, the reading process becomes an exhausting labour rather than a stimulating pleasure, with the too frequent distraction of phrases that are oddly convoluted to no purpose, and dizzy-making switches from one heavy subject allusion to another.

Gordimer's style seems to have evolved over the decades, so one has to assume the current phase is deliberate. The prose reads as if written or typed "as it comes" without any attempt at honing or editing. In the end, I decided with great reluctance to abandon the effort for the time being – a great pity since there is a need for thought-provoking novels on the new South Africa based on first hand observation and understanding.

⭐⭐⭐ 3 Stars

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