October

October

by Zoe Wicomb
     
 

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“Mercia Murray is a woman of fifty-two years who has been left.” Abandoned by her partner in Scotland, where she has been living for twenty-five years, Mercia returns to her homeland of South Africa to find her family overwhelmed by alcoholism and secrets. Poised between her life in Scotland and her life in South Africa, she recollects the past with a

Overview


“Mercia Murray is a woman of fifty-two years who has been left.” Abandoned by her partner in Scotland, where she has been living for twenty-five years, Mercia returns to her homeland of South Africa to find her family overwhelmed by alcoholism and secrets. Poised between her life in Scotland and her life in South Africa, she recollects the past with a keen sense of irony as she searches for some idea of home. In Scotland, her life feels unfamiliar; her apartment sits empty. In South Africa, her only brother is a shell of his former self, pushing her away. And yet in both places she is needed, if only she could understand what for. Plumbing the emotional limbo of a woman who is isolated and torn from her roots, October is a stark and utterly compelling novel about the contemporary experience of an intelligent immigrant, adrift among her memories and facing an uncertain middle age.

With this pitch-perfect story, the “writer of rare brilliance” (The Scotsman) Zoë Wicomb—who received one of the first Donald Windham–Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prizes for lifetime achievement—stands to claim her rightful place as one of the preeminent contemporary voices in international fiction.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
11/25/2013
Mercia Murray, a 52-year-old English teacher living in Glasgow, has recently been abandoned by her partner of two decades. Distracted from her work and daydreaming about her family back in South Africa, Mercia returns to her hometown of Kliprand, where she must face her alcoholic brother, Jake, his provincial wife, and their five-year-old son, Nicky. As she strikes up a tepid relationship with the boy, Mercia reflects on her childhood—defined by a guilt that “ran like a dye through their days... tingeing all with fear of trespassing and disappointing their virtuous parents”—and finds herself facing truths about her family that have long been hidden. In Jake and Mercia, Wicomb (Playing in the Light) contemplates the meaning of family, the limits of forgiveness, and the deep responsibilities of having children. The novel provides an insightful look at how “memory is bound up with place,” and at what it means to return home. (Mar.)
From the Publisher

Praise for October:
"Wicomb adeptly navigates time, place, and the minds of various characters to illustrate the impact of apartheid on one family."
The New Yorker

One of Flavorwire's 10 Must-Read Books for March 2014

"Wicomb (Playing in the Light) contemplates the meaning of family, the limits of forgiveness, and the deep responsibilities of having children. [October] provides an insightful look at how 'memory is bound up with place,' and at what it means to return home."
Publishers Weekly

Praise for Zoë Wicomb:
"An extraordinary writer. Zoe Wicomb has mined pure gold from that place [South Africa]—seductive, brilliant, and precious, her talent glitters."
—Toni Morrison

"Wicomb deserves a wide American audience, on a par with Nadine Gordimer."
The Wall Street Journal

"A sophisticated storyteller who combines the open-endedness of contemporary fiction with the force of autobiography."
—Bharati Mukherjee, The New York Times

Praise for Playing in the Light:
"Post-apartheid South Africa is indeed a new world. . . . With this novel, Wicomb proves a keen guide."
The New York Times

"Delectable. . . . Wicomb's prose is as delightful and satisfying in its culmination as watching the sun set over the Atlantic Ocean."
The Christian Science Monitor

"[A] thoughtful, poetic novel."
The Times (London)

"Deep and subtle. . . . This tight, dense novel gives complex history a human face."
Kirkus

Praise for The One That Got Away:
"Combine[s] the coolly interrogative gaze of the outsider with an insider’s intimate warmth."
—J.M. Coetzee

Kirkus Reviews
2013-12-22
A heartsick academic heads from Scotland to her native South Africa to help repair her brother's broken family--and somberly, slowly muse on her past. As in her previous novels and stories (The One That Got Away, 2009, etc.), this novel reflects Wicomb's interest in bridging Europe and post-apartheid South Africa--or, more precisely, showing the extent of the gap. Mercia's thoughts of home are already intense after her longtime partner leaves her, and they deepen once she receives a letter from her brother, Jake, suggesting that she needs to return to South Africa to take care of his young son. When she arrives after 26 years away, it's clear that his life is in chaos: He's sunk deep into alcoholism, and his wife is at loose ends at the impending foreclosure of their home. Though the setup is dramatic, Wicomb's writing is patient and meditative; early in the novel, Mercia reads Marilynne Robinson's novel Home, which seems to serve as a thematic and tonal model here. Mercia's visit inevitably sends her into the past, thinking of her mother, who died young, and her domineering father, who sent both of them fleeing on different paths. We also learn more about Mercia's relationship with a poet and the woman he left her for. Wicomb touches on South African politics and racial divides (Mercia's family is black), but the novel stresses a more interior story, which turns on a harrowing revelation about Mercia's father. At times, this story feels wan and undramatic, as Mercia continuously muses over the question of whether her true home is in Glasgow, Kliprand or Macau, where there is a potential new teaching gig. But its closing pages are genuinely affecting, intensifying the overall mood of heartbreak. A carefully crafted, if at times overly austere, study of home and loss.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781595589620
Publisher:
New Press, The
Publication date:
03/04/2014
Pages:
256
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)

Related Subjects

Meet the Author


Zoë Wicomb is a South African writer living in Glasgow, Scotland, where she is Emeritus Professor at the University of Strathclyde. The author of Playing in the Light and The One That Got Away (both available from The New Press), she has been awarded one of the inaugural Windham Campbell Prizes for fiction writing.

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