Novel of the week: The Promise by Damon Galgut
Galgut’s latest is ‘obviously one of the best novels of the year’
“One of the world’s great writers,” trumpets Edmund White on the cover of the South African author Damon Galgut’s new novel. This is “no exaggeration”, said John Self in The Times: Galgut has already written several remarkable novels – including The Good Doctor (2003) and In a Strange Room (2010) – and his latest may be his best of all.
A multi-generational saga set between 1986 and 2018, it tells the story of a well-off Afrikaner family, the Swarts, who live on a farm near Pretoria. Manie, the family patriarch, has made a promise to give Salome, the Swarts’ long-serving black maid, the deeds to the modest property she lives in. Over the decades, the pledge goes unhonoured, and it comes to seem like a curse: in each of the novel’s four sections, set at intervals of roughly a decade, a family member meets an untimely death. Although The Promise is just 304 pages, Galgut packs so much in that you feel “there must be secret trapdoors involved”. This is “obviously one of the best novels of the year”.
It’s a “stunning” book, agreed Anthony Cummins in The Guardian: Galgut has twice been shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and may go “one better this year”. Particularly striking is the third-person narration, which “addresses an implied Afrikaner reader”, and adopts a satirical, almost flippant tone as it “darts between characters, mid-paragraph or even mid-sentence”. Yet in the background is a “real and serious historical narrative”, charting the “crimes, failures and obligations of white South Africa”, said David Isaacs in Literary Review. Both profound and “enormously enjoyable”, this is a “strange, skilful, spellbinding” novel.
Chatto & Windus 304pp £16.99; The Week Bookshop £13.99
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