Monday, August 21, 2006

Booker Review: Get a Life, Nadine Gordimer

I had only read two pages of Nadine Gordimer's Get a Life when I began to wonder who was the halfwit responsible for the translation. Unfortunately - and obviously, given Get a Life is nominated for the Booker - Get a Life is an original work in English, so Gordimer herself must take full responsibility for sentences like:
Parents are responsible for bringing into the world their progeniture whether deliberately or carelessly and theirs is an unwritten covenant that the life of the child, and by descent the child's child, is to be valued above that of the original progenitors.
Gordimer's assault on grammar and syntax doesn't end there. Practically every page contains some such monstrosity. Sometimes Gordimer is merely awkward:
The tall heavy woman, ageing gourd filled with a life of many troubles, rather than a delicate yellow flower, who had never before been called into the livingroom to sit down and talk with her employers, nevertheless gave them the uninhibited attention their good relations, her considerate working conditions and excellent pay, she found naturally called for.
Sometimes she is, well, even more awkward:
For the first few moments there, eyelids alternately squeezing and lifting wide at the immersion in that benign illumination, of the sun, birds who ring out like mobile phones.
Sometimes you find yourself reading the phrase aloud to loved ones so they too can bask in its finely-wrought badness:
Hearing this apparently general reaction to overwhelment by splendour beyond skylines he doesn't tell, no, you have to endure being in it: a menacing part of it.
Often, though, you have to set the book aside while you wipe tears of laughter from your eyes:
Could you have ever interrupted your selfhood - yes - for an unthinking primitive gratification of some sort, a child gobbling a lollipop.
Considerations of "style" aside, Get a Life has little to recommend it. The story tells of Paul, a young South African ecologist, who is diagnosed with thyroid cancer and treated with a kind of radioactive dye that forces him into quarantine under the care of his parents. Gordimer follows various strands - Paul's parents' marital difficulties; his work as an anti-nuclear activist; his wife's career in advertising - each less interesting than the last. The narrative voice is as dry as an unbuttered Salada, the characters are tedious bores, and the political angle is as poorly-handled as political angles in literary novels tend to be. Gordimer's prose style provides some unintended comic relief, but otherwise Get a Life is sodding dull.

I'm as cynical about the Booker as anybody, but it still staggers me that shitty writing like this is rewarded with a spot on the longlist. How does it even get published?


MrLefty said...


Armagnac Esq. said...

THe idiot who translated the last couple of houellebecq books did a similar job on the grammar. Unless he simply forgot how to write over the past 5 years...

Zoe said...

I am all overwhelment. Also, I am snickering.

When the shortlist is announced, will you PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE post as the novelists reviewing each other? Then we could be happy if Nadine made the shortlist.

Tim said...

That's a great idea, Zoe, a child gobbling a lollipop. Hearing this idea - yes - I am overwhelmified, birds who ring out like mobile phones. Oops, there goes my ageing gourd.

Ampersand Duck said...

My goodness, what a lot of time you're saving me. I'm very grateful and vow to give you my uninhibited attention for the rest of the longlist.

mscynic said...


It appears you have found the person responsible for translating the operating instructions on cheap, Asian MP3 players.


Beth said...

I interrupt my selfhood - yes - to thank you for your suffering, because I think that this may be a book I avoid with a ten foot pole, or a massive ageing gourd, whichever one's closer to hand.

Hilarious post, though, if that makes you feel better about your traumatic reading experience.

PS love the reviews-by-novelists idea. Very kafka's soup.

Anonymous said...

translated? Do you see what you have started? Comments that clearly know her work well. How many of these do assume that it is translated? Obviously a great source for those looking for thoughtful reviews.

As for your comments, you seem to be unable to think outside the box, although you do seem to have a great ability to pull sentences out of context. Bet you hated a Sport of Nature too, didn't ya? When authors write outside obvious grammer and concentrate more inside of heads, some, like you, are traumatized. That is a shame, but not for the Booker committee, which generally loves the attempt. This will be shortlisted, and it may even win. As for spending this kind of effort criticizing writing styles ourside your comfort zone, Get A Life.

Tim said...

How many of these do assume that it is translated?

In the review I state that Get a Life "is an original work in English". One commenter obviously didn't read that sentence, so the answer to your question is: one.

The sentences I quoted are in context - they are in the context of supporting my contention that Get a Life is badly written.

This will be shortlisted, and it may even win.

Unlikely, since the shortlist was announced on 14 September 2006 and Get a Life wasn't on it. The prize was won by Kiran Desai on 10 October. You probably should have checked that.

Anonymous said...

you know, you sound so cynical about this piece that I feel sorry for you. you must get little pleasure from life if you cannot find a single beneficial thing to say about the writings of a Nobel Prize winning author