Get a Life [NOOK Book]


Paul Bannerman, an ecologist in South Africa, believes he understands the trajectory of his life, with the usual markers of vocation and marriage. But when he's diagnosed with thyroid cancer and, after surgery, prescribed treatment that will leave him radioactive, for a period a danger to others, he begins to question, as Auden wrote, "what Authority gives / existence its surprise."

In the garden of his childhood home, where his businessman father, Adrian, and prominent civil ...

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Get a Life

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Paul Bannerman, an ecologist in South Africa, believes he understands the trajectory of his life, with the usual markers of vocation and marriage. But when he's diagnosed with thyroid cancer and, after surgery, prescribed treatment that will leave him radioactive, for a period a danger to others, he begins to question, as Auden wrote, "what Authority gives / existence its surprise."

In the garden of his childhood home, where his businessman father, Adrian, and prominent civil rights lawyer mother, Lyndsay, take him in to protect his wife and child from radiation, he enters an unthinkable existence and another kind of illumination: the contradiction between the values of his work and those of his wife, Benni, an ad agency executive. His mother is transformed by the strange state of her son's existence to face her own past. Meanwhile, projects to build a nuclear reactor and drain vital wetlands preoccupy Paul as if he were at work. By the time he is cured, both families have been changed. On his return to his home and career, his parents go to Mexico to fulfill the archaeological vocation Adrian sacrificed to support his family. The consequence of this trip is the final surprise in this extraordinary exploration of passionate individual existences.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The phrase "late work" is usually reserved for masters, and it is appropriate to this 14th novel from Gordimer, whose cruel meditations on mortality and commitment are enacted within two marriages a generation apart. Paul Bannerman, a 35-year-old activist ecologist who works to prevent development of the South African bush, is diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Following radiation treatment, he stays with his parents, Adrian and Lyndsay; his ad exec wife, Berenice (Benni), and toddler son, Nicholas, visit him, but must avoid contact with Paul while he's radioactive. During Paul's stay, Gordimer sounds the depths of Paul and Benni's connection (shallow but sometimes tender) and replays Adrian and Lyndsay's turbulent (but on the surface, placid) past together. Paul and Benni's professional lives are at odds (she does ads for developers); Adrian chucked a potential career as an archeologist to advance Lyndsay's as a lawyer. When Paul returns home, change comes very rapidly-and dramatically-for everyone. Gordimer's narrator is chilly, remote and omniscient, toying with the characters and taking shots at them at almost every opening, particularly the two career-women: "How girlishly exciting it must have been," says the narrator of Lyndsay's past affair, begun at a conference. Paul's vulnerable, mortal body and everyone's life choices are relentlessly, tauntingly picked over in a manner that is spare and quick to the point of offhandedness. The result is a lacerating novel, one in which conflicted professional and domestic lives are played for all their contradictory possibility. (Dec.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
After being treated for thyroid cancer, South African ecologist Paul Bannerman finds that he is temporarily radioactive and retreats to his childhood home to protect his wife and child. Not surprisingly, it's a chance to rethink his life. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The 1991 Nobel winner's 14th novel is one of her most provocative books: an unsparing analysis of the permutations-and ramifications-of commitment and fidelity, endangerment and survival. Its initial crisis is the personal one afflicting 30ish white South African Paul Bannerman, an ecologist dedicated to protecting the pristine African environment from commercial overdevelopment. Diagnosed with malignant thyroid cancer, Bannerman is treated with a "destructive [chemical] substance" that renders him temporarily radioactive, removing him from contact with his wife Berenice ("Benni") and young son and placing him under a kind of benign house arrest in the home of his still-nurturing parents Lyndsay and Adrian. Gordimer employs this confinement as a stage for revelations of her major characters' contrasted and intertwined professional and personal lives. Benni is a successful advertising copywriter, whose clients include commercial enterprises her husband opposes. Paul's father Adrian is a retired businessman with a passion for archaeology left unrequited during the early years of his long marriage to Lyndsay, who is still, in her 60s, a busy civil-rights lawyer. Gordimer has a tendency to tip her hand, and spell out themes (e.g., Benni's lament "why must her man take on the survival of the whole bloody world, and now himself a threatened species?"). But her terse, slashing prose compels attention, and she shares Saul Bellow's ability to make discursive commentary vividly dramatic. And as the novel's initially simple plot cunningly exfoliates, Paul's re-entry into the world of family and work encounters ironic complications, as does his parents' seemingly rock-like marriage, which enduresseparation, failed communication and-in an irony worthy of Sophocles-Lyndsay's accession to a judgeship. Yes, this is a talky novel, but if the conscience of South Africa hasn't earned the right to have her say, who has?One of our great writers at her challenging, blistering best. Mandatory reading.
From the Publisher
“Nadine Gordimer’s work is endowed with an emotional genius so palpable one experiences it like a finger pressing steadily upon the prose.” —The Village Voice

“A timely novel and a provocative one: a novel to enjoy and ponder, as its characters all do, the dizzying complications inherent in human choice.” —The Washington Times

“I will always be grateful for the presence in the world of Nadine Gordimer, who has delivered in literature a South Africa most of us could not have known without her.” —Gail Caldwell, The Boston Globe

The Washington Post Book World Ward Just

[Natalie Gordimer] is a writer of exceptional poise, writing tight, with ruffles and flourishes kept to a minimum . . . This novel begins superbly and ends wonderfully, and in between there are passages of high intelligence, not without Gordimer's signature asperity.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374707415
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 5/15/2007
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 1,227,968
  • File size: 187 KB

Meet the Author

Nadine Gordimer, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1991, is the author of thirteen novels, nine volumes of stories, and three nonfiction collections. She lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Nadine Gordimer (1923-2014), the recipient of the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature, was born in a small South African town. Her first book, a collection of stories, was published when she was in her early twenties. Her ten books of stories include Something Out There (1984), and Jump and Other Stories (1991). Her novels include The Lying Days (1953), A World of Strangers (1958), Occasion for Loving (1963), The Late Bourgeois World (1966), A Guest of Honour (1971), The Conservationist (1975), Burger's Daughter (1979), July's People (1981), A Sport of Nature (1987), My Son's Story (1990), None to Accompany Me (1994), The House Gun (1998), The Pickup (2001), Get a Life (2005), and No Time Like the Present (2012). A World of Strangers, The Late Bourgeois World, and Burger's Daughter were originally banned in South Africa. She published three books of literary and political essays: The Essential Gesture (1988); Writing and Being (1995), the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures she gave at Harvard in 1994; and Living in Hope and History (1999).

Ms. Gordimer was a vice president of PEN International and an executive member of the Congress of South African Writers. She was a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in Great Britain and an honorary member of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She was also a Commandeur de'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France). She held fourteen honorary degrees from universities including Harvard, Yale, Smith College, the New School for Social Research, City College of New York, the University of Leuven in Belgium, Oxford University, and Cambridge University.

Ms. Gordimer won numerous literary awards, including the Booker Prize for The Conservationist, both internationally and in South Africa.
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Read an Excerpt

Excerpted from Get a Life by Nadine Gordimer. Copyright © 2005 by Nadine Gordimer Published in December 2005 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.

i / Child's Play

Only the street-sweeper swishing his broom to collect fallen leaves from the gutter.

The neighbours might have seen, but in the middle of a weekday morning everyone would be out at work or away for other daily-life reasons.

She was there, at the parents' driveway gate as he arrived, able to smile for him, and quickly sense the signal for them to laugh at, accept the strangely absurd situation (only temporary) that they could not hug one another. A foregone hug is less emotional than a foregone embrace. Everything is ordinary. The sweeper passes pushing the summer's end before him.


Literally radiant. But not giving off light as saints are shown with a halo. He radiates unseen danger to others from a destructive substance that has been directed to counter what was destroying him. Had him by the throat. Cancer of the thyroid gland. In hospital he was kept in isolation. Even that of silence; he had no voice for a while, mute. Vocal cords affected. He remains, he will be still, out of his control, exposing others and objects to what he emanates, whomever and whatever he touches.

Everything must be ordinary.

Calling from one car window to the other: Has she remembered his laptop? Some cassettes? His Adidas? The book on the behaviour of relocated elephants he was in the middle of reading when he went back to hospital? Berenice--Benni--why do parents burden their children with fancy names--has packed a bag for him. She wept while she made decisions on his behalf, put this in, take that out. But she not only remembered; familiarity knew what he would need, miss. In one of the books he will find she has slipped a photograph of herself he liked particularly, he'd taken before their love affair turned into marriage. There's a snap of the boy as a baby.

His mother fetched him from the hospital. He opened a door of the rear seat of the car, to sit in there, right from the start he must begin to follow a certain conduct of himself, make it a habit for the time being, but his mother is like him (if that's not a reverse order of inherited characteristics), she has decided on her own code of conduct in response to the threat he represents. She leans to open the door of the passenger seat beside her and pats it authoritatively.

He has a wife and child.

Whose life, whose risk is worth less than these?

Parents are responsible for bringing into the world their progeniture whether deliberately or carelessly and theirs is an unwritten covenant that the life of the child, and by descent the child's child, is to be valued above that of the original progenitors.

So Paul--that's him, the son--he has come home--oh differently, for the time being, yes--to the old home, that of his parents.

Lyndsay and Adrian are not old. The ladder of ageing has extended since medical science, sensible exercise, healthy diet have enabled people to linger longer and younger before ascending to disappear in the mystery at the top. ('Passing away' is the euphemism, but to where?) Unthinkable that the son is preceding, ahead of them, up there. His father is about to retire at a vigorous sixty-five from managing directorship of an agricultural vehicle and equipment plant. His mother, fifty-nine looking forty-nine, a longtime natural beauty with no wish for face-lifts, is considering whether or not she should leave her partnership in a legal practice and join her other partner in this new phase of existence.

The dog jumps and paws at him, sniffs the cold hospital pungency of his bulging hold-all and the delivered suitcase with what his wife anticipated his needs might be here, in this phase of his existence.--Which room?--It is not his old room, it's his sister's that has been turned into a study where his father will follow whatever interests he's supposed to have in readiness for retirement. This sister and brother born only twelve months apart due to excessive youthful passion or a mistaken reliance on the contraceptive efficacy of breast-feeding--Lyndsay still laughs at her ignorance and the opportunism of quick breeding! There are two other sisters, better biologically spaced. He has no brother.

He's unique.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2013

    A beautiful book.  Gordimer's contact with the most minutely, an

    A beautiful book.  Gordimer's contact with the most minutely, and movingly, detailed human responses is fully realized in this lovely novel.
    A gem.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2006

    entire premise of book is made up science

    I was very disappointed in a much-celebrated, Nobel prize winning author who didn't do her homework. First of all, the main character, Paul, has 'papillary carcinoma, the worst kind of thyroid cancer.' Except that papillary thyroid cancer is actually the LEAST deadly kind of cancer, of all the cancers out there. It has a nearly 100% cure rate is people under age 60. I had this type of cancer 13 years ago, and have never even required a hospital stay after one of my radiation treatments. So to build the entire premise of the novel around his needed isolation is based on made up science. And if he's such a danger to his family, why is he out of the hospital and living with his parents and the housekeeper? I couldn't get past the first chapter of this book because the complete lack of accuracy was too infurriating to me.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2005

    How Long Does It Really Take?

    I myself have had several 'oblations' which is ingested radiation and would be put into the hospital for 3 days and radioactive for not more than a week. So, really, how long did the author really have to do this or was this a reason to have material to write a book? I have had this cancer for more than 11 years and it is now terminal so I get a little aggravated when I read this kind of thing knowing first hand that some of this is a little over the top for whatever reason. Therapy? Ok, that's good if writing the book is therapy but what I have an issue with is be honest in really how long this takes and it certainly does not take more than a week to have your levels down. Ask any radiologist about oblation for thyroid cancer.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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