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Double Negative

Double Negative

by Ivan Vladislavic, Teju Cole (Introduction)

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"One of the most imaginative minds at work in South African literature today."—André Brink

Originally part of a collaborative project with photographer David Goldblatt, Double Negative is a subtle triptych that captures the ordinary life of Neville Lister during South Africa's extraordinary revolution. Ivan Vladislavic lays moments side by side


"One of the most imaginative minds at work in South African literature today."—André Brink

Originally part of a collaborative project with photographer David Goldblatt, Double Negative is a subtle triptych that captures the ordinary life of Neville Lister during South Africa's extraordinary revolution. Ivan Vladislavic lays moments side by side like photographs on a table. He lucidly portrays a city and its many lives through reflections on memory, art, and what we should really be seeking.

Ivan Vladislavic is the author of a number of prize-winning fiction and nonfiction books. He currently lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In Vladislavić’s (Portrait with Keys) unusual take on South African apartheid, Neville Lister, a college student in Johannesburg in the 1980s, decides that he wants to experience the real world and drops out of university, much to the consternation of his parents. His concerned father has him spend a day with Saul Auerbach, a noted photographer. Auerbach comes up with the idea of picking three houses at random, then photographing their owners and listening to their stories. But after visiting the first two houses, the photographer loses interest and scraps the idea. It is only a decade later that Neville decides to complete Auerbach’s task. In that intervening time, Neville has moved to London to escape army service, become a photographer himself, and returned to Johannesburg to see the changes caused by the end of apartheid. Along the way, we see Neville’s relationship with his widowed mother, we meet the several women in his life, and we are told of his ambivalent attitude toward his art. It’s this ambivalence that makes Neville a frustrating character, although the author crafts the details of his life with a crystalline clarity. The subject of apartheid is treated in the most glancing way, a possible comment on how historical movements are sometimes secondary considerations in the lives of ordinary people. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
"Vladislavic’s narrative intelligence [is] nowhere more visible than in his way with language itself. Each section is perfectly judged; we enter incidents in medias res – as though they were piano études – and exit them before we have overstayed our welcome." Teju Cole

"Vladislavic is sensitively attuned to the uncanny phenomena that explode from the social fault lines of his city." Patrick Flanery, The Guardian (UK)

"Well received in his homeland, this publication marks the long-overdue arrival of one of South Africa’s most finely tuned observers." Ted Hodgkinson, The Times Literary Supplement (UK)

"This book coheres resplendently by its metaphorical underpinnings, by something rare in the world of contemporary fiction: meaning … Double Negative listens carefully to the sound of the ebb and flow of history and transcribes it in lucid, rigorous prose; Vladislavic is no minor congener of Sebald." Neel Mukherjee, The Independent (UK)

"A tone of bemused artistic entrapment in random patterns permeates this wonderfully soft-spoken novel, which reminds me very much of the work of J. M. Coetzee, W. G. Sebald and P. Auster. Double Negative even feels slightly fresher than the recent publications from these three giants of quirky flat-voiced first-person narrative postmodernism. Ivan Vladislavic is not actually a new voice in fiction, it turns out — he’s been publishing novels for decades — but he was new to me when I picked up Double Negative, and this accessible novel may help him reach a larger audience." Levi Asher

"One of the most imaginative minds at work in South African literature today." André Brink

"Double Negative was worth the wait." The Quarterly Conversation

"A rare, brilliant writer. Vladislavic’s work eschews all cant. Its sheer verve distinguishes it." Sunday Times (SA)

"Vladislavic seeks the poetry of the city he has known and loved for 30 years … He finds the human behind Johannesburg’s sorry reputation." Ross Leckie, The Times (SA)

"Deft, effortless and funny … Double Negative shows one of South Africa’s foremost writers in full flow." Craig MacKenzie, Mail & Guardian (SA)

"Double Negative is about, among other things, how art relates to life – and history, if you like – and its severe limits, which may also be its strengths … The book is ambitious but resolutely unassuming; it is a triumph, if anything so sceptical, so taking due care, can be called such." Charles Boyle, The Warwick Review

"Vladislavic is unquestionably a master of metaphor, literary imagery and pacing. … This multi-layered book is a beautifully crafted narrative, an insightful meditation on art and memory, and a vibrant portrayal of Johannesburg. Slow, meticulous and poignant, like a skilfully produced black-and-white photograph." Megan Thomas, The Lady

"Double Negative is a complex meditation on history, memory and – those enigmatic freeze-frames of the past – photography and their mutual relationship to the present." Kavish Chetty, Cape Argus

"A widely-respected and award-winning writer in his home country, Vladislavic has been described by André Brink as ‘one of the most imaginative minds at work in South African literature today.'’’ Publishing Perspectives

"The recent loss of Nelson Mandela has led to much debate about what has changed in his new South Africa and to what degree the transition to full democracy has glossed over the injustices of the apartheid era; through a novel rich in discerning metaphors and delicate tableaux, Vladislavic exposes how deep the stain of the past remains." Jonathan Ruppin, Fiction of the Year, Foyles Blog

"Written with as much care as his fictional photographer takes over his work, Vladislavic conveys the changes in his own city of Johannesburg. He poses provocative questions about art, photography, digitalisation and commercialism … It’s brave, bold and different." Scarlett MccGwire, Tribune

"The scale of the story here is small, but rather than diminishing the writing, it focuses it intensely. A great book." Bruce Dennill, The Citizen

"As a post-apartheid novel, this is a breath of fresh air. It’s a challenge to complacency, not a paean to liberation." Luke Davies, The Literateur

"All of Vladislavic’s tangential imperative in Double Negative can be taken as an articulation of a philosophy of photography. But the subject of photography in the novel, resorting to a factual analysis, is not tangential, but the axle on which it turns." Emmanuel Iduma, Africanah.org

"This is a novel about captured impressions and the ways in which an image can tell a thousand tales." Buzz Magazine

"The author crafts the details of his [character’s] life with a crystalline clarity." Publishers Weekly

"This thought-provoking novel about race incited discussion through spirited, well-crafted dialogue." Foreword

"Beautifully wrought, Double Negative is a clever and original piece of work, impressively structured and layered." M.A. Orthofer, The Complete Review

"Double Negative is exceptionally well written. It captures an everyday life against the backdrop of South Africa’s incredible revolution in an engaging portrait of a city and its many diverse citizens." Kryosmagica

"The distinctive And Other Stories’ first-edition aesthetic means that this Double Negative is uncluttered: the French flaps work beautifully, retaining a subtlety in their gently layered revelation of information, reflecting, then, the novel they bracket – the front flap has an unintroduced, unpaginated quote from the novel that impresses both the acute elegance of Vladislavic’s prose and the novel’s unflinching look at the altering processes of recording the fraught status of ‘truth’ in the post-apartheid space." Katie Reid, Africa in Words

"Double Negative is a multi-layered, complex novel, deceptive in its first-impression gentleness, and just like Nev, I’m still experiencing the effects of it unfolding even after it has ended." Maia Nikitina, Bookmunch

"For anyone who spends time thinking about what happens when you call something art, it is a book worth reading." The Rookery in the Bookery

"When reading Double Negative, you have to appreciate the richness of the seemingly minor details, the subtle motion of everything. … Only by paying attention to every detail can you enjoy the full spectrum of what Vladislavic offers." Leo P. Neufeld, Alibi

"Double Negative is one of those novels that packs a lot in…it is also a soulful meditation on life, love, money, and death." Ben Macnair, Newbooks Mag

"Vladislavic’s writing is beautiful, almost painterly in its subtlety … The book is a treat from start to finish, illuminated by Teju Cole’s fine introduction." A Life in Books

"It’s the novel that has most influenced me as a writer this year … Reading it at the tail end of this year gave the story even greater resonance … [a] concise but powerful examination of a small lives caught in the throes of great events." Dan Powell Fiction

"Vladislavic takes time and space to play with the politics of watching, and of being watched, so inherent in photography of any kind . . . Vladislavic’s prose is delicately crafted; the metaphors sifted through a singular person’s outlook on the world." The Rookery in the Bookery

"The writing soars, Vladislavic does this on a couple of other occasions in the book where he allows the writing to kind of lift off and become very poetic. It’s just beautiful, so, so well done … I really love this book, I could waffle on about it for absolutely ages but I won’t do that except to just say that you really should have a look at it … Fantastic to discover another writer that I would never have discovered if it wasn’t for publishers like And Other Stories." Just William’s Luck

"Ivan Vladislavic’s Double Negative is a vivid and unique portrait of post-Apartheid Johannesburg." Largehearted Boy

"The characters and the references could be read as a metaphor for South Africa moving through transition it became a little to laboured like an overloaded donkey traversing a rocky mountain path. Overall a nice study of a country and the moving powers, the uncertainty of the inhabitants and loss of a homeland." Tony Messenger, Messy Booker

"For a simple story line, there is a lot to take from this novel and I really enjoyed being taken through Neville’s Johannesburg." Lenna Stites, San Francisco Book Review

"In Double Negative, Ivan Vladislavic has created an intriguing character study, and an examination of social change refracted through the experience of one individual." David Hebblethwaite, Follow the Thread

Product Details

And Other Stories Publishing
Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

IVAN VLADISLAVIC is the author of the novels The Folly, The Restless Supermarket, The Exploded View and Double Negative. The last of these appeared initially in TJ/Double Negative, a joint project with the photographer David Goldblatt. Vladislavić has written extensively about Johannesburg, notably in Portrait with Keys (2006). He has edited volumes on architecture and art, and published a monograph on the conceptual artist Willem Boshoff. The compendium volume Flashback Hotel (2010) gathered together his early stories. Recent books are The Loss Library and Other Unfinished Stories, a reflection on writing and other things, and A Labour of Moles, a small comedy of meanings illustrated by Ornan Rotem. His work has won the Sunday Times Fiction Prize, the Alan Paton Award and the University of Johannesburg Prize, while TJ/Double Negative received the 2011 Kraszna-Krausz Award for best photography book.

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