The Impostor

The Impostor

3.0 2
by Damon Galgut

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Damon Galgut is one of South Africa’s most exciting new literary voices. In The Impostor, his first novel since The Good Doctor, Galgut leads his readers into the developing heart of postapartheid South Africa, a landscape being reshaped by new waves of money and power. Adam Napier leaves Johannesburg looking for a fresh start. Jobless and

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Damon Galgut is one of South Africa’s most exciting new literary voices. In The Impostor, his first novel since The Good Doctor, Galgut leads his readers into the developing heart of postapartheid South Africa, a landscape being reshaped by new waves of money and power. Adam Napier leaves Johannesburg looking for a fresh start. Jobless and directionless, but with a head full of literary ambitions, he moves into his brother’s dilapidated house on the edge of a backwater town. One day he encounters Canning, a man who claims Adam saved his life in their school days, but whom Adam does not remember at all. But he plays along and, for a time, enjoys all that Canning has: a vast fortune and game preserve inherited from his father, and a beautiful, mysterious younger wife to whom Adam is compulsively, dangerously drawn. A spellbinding achievement from one of the defining members of a new generation of African writers, The Impostor evokes a glittering world in which the moneyed old guard, newly empowered black Africans, and shady foreign businessmen jockey for a piece of the new South African dream.

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Editorial Reviews

Tayt Harlin
Galgut's style echoes Hemingway's in its lack of adornment and Coetzee's in its quiet menace
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

In this bleak and thrilling novel, the fifth from Booker Prize-nominee Galgut, the author creates an antipastoral, postapartheid noir that centers around Adam Napier, a depressed poet who retreats to a rural South African town to write. Rather than write, Adam drinks and wallows in depression. The story accelerates once he meets Canning, a former schoolmate who regards Adam as a personal hero even though Adam cannot remember him. As it turns out, Canning is a wealthy businessman with a vendetta against his dead father: he plans to transform an idyllic game preserve his father owned into a golf course. While Canning facilitates business between corrupt politicians and shady businessmen, Adam sinks deeper into a moral quagmire and continues to fail as a poet. At the heart of this tightly wound novel is a story of betrayal-within an individual, among friends and neighbors and within a society. With Adam, Galgut has created a transcendent loser, a contemporary cousin to Bellow's magnificent Tommy Wilhelm in Seize the Day. (Jan.)

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From the Publisher
“Galgut has the talent to grow into one of South Africa's great literary voices, alongside its Nobel laureates, Nadine Gordimer and J. M. Coetzee.”

“Galgut is a master of psychological tension.”
Globe and Mail

“[The Good Doctor is] a gripping read, laced throughout with powerful emotional truth and Damon Galgut’s extraordinary vision.”

“Galgut’s style is as bony as the landscape he depicts, as sly and sinewy as the characters that inhabit it.”
Times Literary Supplement

“[This] many-layered tale of friendship and betrayal proves Galgut is a worthy heir to Gordimer and Coetzee.”
The Observer

“Like the diamonds mined in his native South Africa, Damon Galgut’s The Impostor is a multi-faceted gem. . . . Like Ian McEwan, he is a master of menace.”
Vancouver Sun

“Taut writing and a breathtaking suspense ­combine to produce a spine-tingling thriller. . . . A gripping read.”
Winnipeg Free Press

“A hugely satisfying read.”
National Post

Library Journal
Galgut's extraordinary fifth novel, like his previous one, the Man Booker Prize nominee The Good Doctor (2003), is set in rural postapartheid South Africa. When Adam Napier is laid off from his office job in Johannesburg, he leaves the big city to live in a rundown house in a remote area, with plans to write poetry, but he soon finds he is unable to flourish in his new environment. The story's pacing and Audie Award winner Humphrey Bower's (The Family Frying Pan) excellent reading let the listeners in on the drabness of the atmosphere and the unsavory characters tangled within it. Libraries with extensive fiction and English-language literature materials will definitely want to add this fine production to their collections.—Barbara Valle, El Paso P.L., TX

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Product Details

Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

The first time he sees her: they come around the corner and she is standing on the grass, her back to them. The sun is going down in a spectacular arterial sewage of colour, but she appears indifferent to the display. She seems rapt in some private fantasy, holding a long suede coat closed around her body, despite the heat. She hears them and turns. Under the coat she is wearing a short, shimmery blue dress, and her legs are very long. Although her feet are bare, it’s as if she’s wearing high heels. Even before he sees the bright paint on her face, Adam has a flash of the woman on the road outside the town, selling herself. She seems to have been transported here, garish and gorgeous and improbable.

Once that first image fades, he sees past it to how beautiful she is. She is like an exotic doll, all her tiny features in immaculate proportion. She’s also young; at least ten years younger than Canning — which means ten years younger than Adam too.

‘My wife, Baby,’ Canning says. ‘Baby, this is Nappy.’

She holds out her hand. He can feel her long nails in his palm. The sensation lets something loose in him — distaste mixed with desire. He holds her fingers for a second longer than is necessary.

‘I’ve heard so much about you,’ she says. ‘My husband has talked about you so many times.’

Her voice is low, husky, a little disinterested. The accent is neutral and rootless, hard to place. Her eyes linger on him for a moment, summing him up, before dismissing him.

‘What do you think?’ Canning says proudly. ‘I told you my wife is amazing.’

‘Yes,’ Adam murmurs. He doesn’t know what else to say. It’s true: she is amazing —though perhaps not in the way that Canning means. And what kind of a name is Baby?

‘I’m just going to show Nappy around.’

‘Yes, do,’ she says.

But Canning doesn’t move. He stands there, smiling fixedly, appearing almost desperate, staring at his wife as if he’s the one who’s just met her. She pulls the coat tighter around herself and gives a languid little shrug, before turning around and gazing into the distance. Only then, with a discernible effort, does Canning set himself in motion. Adam follows him the last few steps into the big building, both of them casting a backward glance towards the singular figure, standing alone on the grass.

Now they have walked into a tall, sepulchral space, in which Adam’s eyes have to adjust. He sees constituent elements before he sees the whole: slate floors, high conical roof, prints of wildlife paintings on the walls, between signboards with names on them like reception, wellness centre, conference rooms. It feels as if it should be jammed with people, but the place is empty. The sound of their feet quavers coldly around them.

‘What is this? A game lodge?’

‘There you are. Right first time.’

Other details are coming to him now: animal heads mounted on the wall. A fireplace framed by two gleaming white tusks, a zebra-skin spread out on the floor in front of it.

‘But where are the people?’

‘Well, we’re here, aren’t we?’

Canning seems to be enjoying Adam’s confusion. He leads his guest down some stairs towards a bar, fully stocked with drinks. Through a set of doors to one side, Adam sees a kitchen in which there is a flurry of menial activity. ‘No, no,’ Canning says, when Adam holds out the wine he’s brought along. ‘Put that away. Let me mix you one of my lethal little cocktails. It took me years to get the formula just right.’ He concocts a toxic-looking, bright blue mixture and dispenses it into two tall glasses, giving one to Adam. ‘Cheers,’ he says. ‘Here’s to old friends!’

‘Old friends,’ Adam says, and drinks.

‘Are you surprised by my wife?’ Canning asks abruptly.

‘Surprised? No. Why would I be?’

‘Well. Because she’s black, for one thing.’

‘But who cares about that?’

That is, in fact, the least surprising thing about her.

‘We’re a new South African couple,’ Canning says.

Adam feels irritated. There is nothing very new, or even especially unusual, about having a black spouse these days, and it seems gratuitous to be harping on it. Though it’s also true that Canning isn’t your typical modern South African man. But the surprise is connected to Canning, not Baby, and it’s as if he himself recognizes this fact when his tone changes suddenly, from pride to panic:

‘I love my wife, Nappy. I love her very badly! I don’t want to give her up.’

Afterwards, when Adam remembers this conversation, it is that one word, ‘badly’, which stands out for him. How can you love somebody badly? But he says, in a soothing voice, ‘You don’t have to give her up, do you?’

Canning is sunk in gloom now, as if the twilight has affected him. But then his mood switches again. ‘Come with me,’ he says. ‘There’s something special I want to show you.’

The light is fading as they go back out onto the lawn. Adam looks, but Baby has disappeared. Canning leads him away from the complex, in the direction of the river. They pass in silence through concentric rings of cultivation that radiate outwards, each one a little wilder and more unkempt than the last. There is an orchard, and below that an open field, churned-up and broken, in which nothing has been planted. Then a wall of trees goes up, complex and knotted, lush with the proximity to water. Along the way, Adam sees the greeny-blue, outrageous shapes of peacocks everywhere.

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Meet the Author

Damon Galgut is an award-winning novelist and short story writer. His most recent novel, The Good Doctor, won a regional Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book and was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Galgut lives in Cape Town, South Africa.

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