Nadine Gordimer | Critical Review by Jeremy Harding

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of Nadine Gordimer.
This section contains 529 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Jeremy Harding

Critical Review by Jeremy Harding

SOURCE: "Pale Ghosts," in London Review of Books, Vol. 17, No. 1, January 12, 1995, pp. 20-3.

In the following excerpt, Harding assesses the narrative strengths of None to Accompany Me.

… Nadine Gordimer's novel [None to Accompany Me] is set in the period after Mandela's release. It is about homecoming and transition. The heroine, Vera Stark, who works for a progressive legal foundation, is not an exile as such, but she has lived at a distance from herself, which is slowly closed by her encounter with a black land rights spokesman, courageous, ambitious but unpretentious—virtues that are not confined to Mandela, but which try a novelist's skills, and occasionally a reader's patience. Didymus and Sibongile, old friends of Vera, have returned from Europe and Africa. Didymus, an ANC worthy, fails to land a senior post at home—his wife gets one—and it transpires that he has been involved in the persecution of ANC members (during the Eighties, both the ANC and Swapo detained and tortured their dissidents) up in some front-line state 'where the methods of extracting information by inflicting pain and humiliation learnt from white Security Police were adopted by those who had been its victims'.

This thread is spun pretty much in passing. It is taken up again at a party in Johannesburg, but here Gordimer forecloses any discussion by making the speaker a ludicrous cameo character—a young English journalist 'in a catfish-patterned dashiki', whose motives for bringing up the subject of ANC detention camps are suspect. Gordimer's books often unstitch their own politics in this way and, as derision of one thing becomes extenuation of another—or vice-versa—it does no harm, even at the risk of appearing a fool, to slip into a dashiki by about page nine and start mumbling one's objections; tricky, however, for readers who are close to Gordimer's world—everyday 'Movement' folk, of whom, and in many ways for whom, None to Accompany Me is an ordinary tale.

The rhythm of the novel is good. It glides easily from the inside of Vera's head, with its round-the-clock screenings—first husband, second husband, erstwhile European lover, thoughts on middle age, the struggle, children—to the outside, where events are moving almost as hectically. But the interior is always vivid while the world is sketchy, forever in draft. Being with Vera, whose sensibilities are the main thing, is like being on a ship at night in rough weather, where there is little by way of a view beyond the rise and fall of cabin furnishings. But this has its purpose. The rewards of personal freedom after years of general misery would not be grasped in a novel that divided its attention more evenly. 'Everyone ends up moving alone towards the self.' Vera reflects, in the calm at the end of the book, when she has left white suburbia. She has thrown over the old life, just as the old politics has been overthrown, and in her connection with the land rights activist, who embodies her own hopes as well as those of the people who queue outside her office at the legal foundation, she seems at last to become her own woman—'herself a final form of company discovered'….

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This section contains 529 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Jeremy Harding