n Shakespeare in Southern Africa - Absent : the English teacher, John Eppel : book reviews

Volume 22, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1011-582X



Obsolescence and anachronism, perhaps unsurprisingly, have been prominent in Southern African fiction of late, or perhaps just in Southern African fiction by white males. Most famously apparent in Coetzee's and Vladislavić's , this theme deals with the detritus of empire in the form of white males (David Lurie and Aubrey Tearle) who find themselves redundant and retired, respectively, in the context of 'the new South Africa' after 1994, and have to begin to scrape together some sort of new life. Much of the drama and amusement, again respectively, comes from both characters being not much up to the challenge. In both cases they are somewhat set in their ways and full of the assumptions and easy judgements that a lifetime cosseted within the safety net of apartheid's sheltered employment allowed. Both rail against the plenitude of errors and injustices that accompany the inversion of the racial hierarchy that leaves them high and dry, and find themselves unable (and perhaps more importantly, unwilling) to overcome their ingrained prejudices and values. Moreover, both protagonists find their resources limited and both are thrown back on a level of basic skill that they have utterly forgotten about for many decades. However, the fact that both novels have been well-received - the former winning the Booker Prize in 1999 and the latter the Fiction Prize in 2002 - and have become mainstays of post-apartheid literary culture and education, suggests that the more things change the more they stay the same; in other words, decades, even centuries, of preeminence cannot just be swept away.

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