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Posted March 4, 2012
(see quote below from actual novel)
To quote the book itself--"...the tread of somebody who has a book in hand and is too burdened by its contents, and yet feels obliged, compelled. Even the ending is predictable and has been foreseen for too long." Indeed, this masochistic novel inflicts as much pain on the reader as the "protagonist", Milla, does to the "heroine", Agaat.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
It has great ambitions regarding its structure, and executes it well. An encyclopedia of agricultural/botanical/medical details and procedures awaits inside for those willing to not give up on this difficult, translated, sometimes scribbled, sometimes poetry, chronicle of Agaat, a slave on a South African farm. The author ingeniously uses this unconventional manner to set the tone, mood, and location, but it's not always easy to relate to the narrator, Milla. Although I normally enjoy when a book employs very specific bodies of knowledge to delve into what is important for the character, I still want to be interested in the teller's life, or at least feel like everything is alive.
Despite some great passages, I had trouble finding the motivation to keep on reading until I reached page 100. Then, halfway through the book, when I thought it should have been over, I lost interest again. That section was a riveting history, and I wish the whole novel would have been such.
One does pity and sympathize Milla, she seems always the victim, but, when the tables turn, you start to realize you have been listening to her bias. While she is a battered wife, she also physically abuses others, and so that whole abuse topic equalizes itself a bit. Any ground she makes in building herself up in you ebbs and flows, and you tend to ignore her, and so then, Jak as well, and focus on Agaat and Jakkie. I think if Milla and Jak were more the bookends of the novel, and Jakkie and Agaat took center stage, I could have invested more of myself.
When you thought the patchwork chronology was going to end, instead we are taking back even further than anything previous to reveal Agaat's life before she had her official beginnings as a slave. And all that is revealed in that section is necessary for the "punch" of the novel. But, if all that was taken out and instead revealed in Aggat's secret fairytale to Jakkie, than I think there would have been such an amazingly strong emotional impact. Also, Jakkie bookending the novel has no discernable purpose.
What this novel gets right, in additional to its attention to detail and its amazing poetic style is an exemplification of the need for ceremony to break up the everyday tedium, one's desire to spice things up for drama. This is especially strong when Milla is trapped and her mind has to entertain itself while Agaat struggle to interpret what it is she is searching for. There are also come great deadpan (bedpan) humor moments, vengeful moments exacted by Agaat when she finally figures out what Milla is looking for.
However, this is no HOW THE DEAD LIVE by Will Self, and the rambling poetic section could have been more successful, as in Caryl Chruchill's THE SKRIKER.
Posted July 9, 2010
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