The Impostor by Damon Galgut

It’s odd how many people see this as a thriller when, although to be sure it is unputdownable and one could say it is thrilling, it is anything but a thriller. For a start there is no hero, not even an anti-hero. Instead the main character is a weak, immoral, selfish man who plays at being poor for a while and hasn’t a brave bone in his body. This is not to say one is unsympathetic to him, far from it. But he is never anything other than pathetic and the same goes for his next door neighbour and the Cannings. For another thing, nothing happens in the story: nothing that one could equate to the circumstances one expects in a thriller.

Set in a dry expanse of emptiness in the midst of the ‘new’ South Africa, the scene is fascinating to observe, at least for one like me who has been entirely ignorant of it until reading Galgut. In particular the closeness of the new to the old ways, the black winners – if one can say that economic and political power smelling of corruption as a win – and their utter divide from the many who continue to be as oppressed and downtrodden as ever. For now I’m happy to suppose he calls it as it is, though I have yet to read anything substantial and non-fictional about South Africa.

There is a fraught scene towards the end where a man comes to Adam’s house to take away his parents, kicked out of their employ and on the streets. He is angry about this, why should he have to take them. He already has his family and his cousin’s family in a house that is too small. Why can’t Adam keep them? White Adam, who is playing at being poor, has felt virtuous enough letting them sleep for a night or two in his house whilst waiting for the son to come for them.

It reminded me of my many white middle class friends who think that we should ‘let them all in’. ‘Everybody should have a nice life’. This in reference in particular to refugees. But not one of them would give up an inch of space in their middle class homes for these people. It’s something that should be done, but it doesn’t actually need to affect them personally in any way. Sure they will go to rallies, demos. They’re fun, it’s like a get-together and then you go for a drink afterwards. Even better, do it on facebook, you can really show how enraged you are about things there. You can sign petitions and like other people’s statements about what we should do for refugees. But ACTUALLY do the thing that is in their power to do? A bed. A room. Support these people? Not on your nelly. Nothing that is life interrupting. Nothing that might affect the superannuation plans. The retirement home you’ve already bought. The…

Well, you get the drift.

Splendid book. Thoroughly recommended.

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