Magazine article The Spectator

No, but I'll Watch the Programme

Magazine article The Spectator

No, but I'll Watch the Programme

Article excerpt

Justin Cartright is an exciting novelist. His imagination sparks off some of the most vital aspects of contemporary culture and scholarship. As a social analyst he is often sharp and funny. He has a haunting way with terrain and with literary imagery, so that no reader of Look At It This Way will forget the lion, weaving its way through the plot in its various emanations Landseer, Stubbs or the balding Chaka on the loose from London Zoo. Nor would he forget the bold, shuttling imagery of Masai Dreaming.

Not Yet Home is Cartright's first nonfiction book. It records his impressions of the difficulties ahead for post-apartheid South Africa. He returned there to make a television documentary and also to report on the presidential inauguration and the Rugby World Cup - political reportage with the all-too-recognisable slant of R. W. Johnson, some personal reflection and too much transcribed photo-opportunity. Its glibness is underlined by the fact that it begins in Martha's Vineyard and ends in the Hotel Dahu in Argentiere, Chamonix.

Parts of it read like the spin-off from the script of a television documentary where the pictures have priority. There are pictorial sequences here - the Venda Snake Dance, the `Isandhlwana Tour', the daytrip to the grave of the Prince Imperial killed in the Zulu War - that present Boys' Own history. There is no analysis of Inkatha, for example. Instead one reads that, `The impi is a metonymy of Zulu life, the liquid, flowing, lethal hordes of Zulu warriors.'

Cartright interviews widely, but these interviews, reported rather like minutes, fall flat. No interviewee says anything unpredictable and neither does the author. Godfrey Moloi, ex-gangster, is now a Soweto sage. (Perhaps his house - Koi carp and raised swimming pool - made excellent television.) Nico Carstens, Mr Big in decades of unspeakable boeremusiek, has gone multi-cultural along with the rest of the crowd. Nadine Gordimer has been interviewed so often before that her contributions here sound like autospeak. Her `drawing room' appears to induce premature pompousness. `The real start of apartheid, we agreed, was in 1913 with the Natives Land Act,' Cartright tells his readers. This is like agreeing that Shakespeare wrote Macbeth. …

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