Although the 1976 massacre of a family in South Africa pulses through the novel and is the catalyst for all its shockwaves, the tale being told is actually something that seems, for a while at least, a lot less dramatic. We’re with Werner Deyer, at two stages of his life. One, when he is a pre-teen child living in rural South Africa just after the massacre, and then, twenty years later, as he shares a flat with his mum and dying father. Both stories begin at a steady pace, but both are very gripping. The young Werner is a child trying to find his way in the world, struggling with his sexuality, his odd parents, and his desire to be admired by everyone. The older Werner is a failed curator, a bitter son, a jealous brother, a lonely lover, and a man whose thoughts are turning to murder.
Despite all these struggles and troubles, though, the first thing to strike you about Jacques Strauss’s second novel is that it’s bloody funny. A dark and dry humour becomes the driving force in the slower early sections, before both narratives become driven more by their action. Expect sexual perversion, murder, disagreements over money, South African history, and even a partly paraplegic painter.
Already sold? If not, there’s more.
Fans of Philip Roth might find this novel particularly exciting. And not only because, like much of the legendary author’s best work, it is a story in which almost every action is driven by sex. There are also a lot of similarities in the prose, the use of humour to explore dark subjects, and the desire to focus on important periods of history. For those still upset at the prospect of no further novels from Roth, you may even be able to convince yourself that this is one of his that you simply hadn’t heard of.
But that wouldn’t be fair on Strauss. He has produced a truly wonderful work of fiction for which he deserves all of the credit. It may get a little chaotic and over the top in the very final section, but up until then it is a captivating and chilling read.
Any Cop?: Put simply, yes. Strauss mixes two narratives together with ease, and comes up with a novel that sparkles.