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Superb novel offers fascinating picture of SA today
09 Sep 2014

The Savage Hour
Elaine Proctor
BOOK REVIEWER: Margaret von Klemperer

FOLLOWING her excellent debut novel, Rhumba, Elaine Proctor now brings her storytelling home to her native country, although she has lived abroad for many years. The Savage Hour is an excellent, thoughtful book, written in a lyrical and intensely visual manner which no doubt owes something to Proctor’s earlier career as a film-maker.
The story, which can be read in the proud tradition of the South African plaasroman, begins when an elderly doctor is found, drowned, in the dam on her family’s small farm near Britz. She was well-respected locally, helping those in need, but her closest relationship was with Gogo, her housekeeper. That is always a tricky thing to handle in South African literature — the master-servant bond can so easily be sentimentalised or trivialised or shown in a way that ignores the power relations that, in reality, bedevil it. But Proctor, in flashbacks to the time when Ouma was still alive, establishes a realistic and moving rapport between the two elderly women.
Apart from her granddaughter Delilah, Ouma was more at ease with people outside her family circle — Gogo; Cheetah, the HIV-positive woman who works on the neighbouring pig farm; and Jannie, the cross-dressing gay policeman who finds himself having to investigate her death. It looks like a simple drowning — an elderly, confused woman slipping to her death. But the deeper the investigation goes, the more questions are thrown up.
This is not a crime novel, though the progress of the investigation moves the plot along, coming to a satisfying conclusion. It is a profound and deeply moving exploration of relationships, within and outside families, on and off the farm. The characters are unforgettable, from Ouma herself, to her son Groot Samuel, Delilah, Gogo, Jannie, Klein Samuel the farmhand, Cheetah, Mokheti the senior policeman and others. Proctor explores them with a deft touch, presenting them as flawed but human.
The Savage Hour is a superb novel that offers a fascinating picture of contemporary South Africa and a profound exploration of the human condition. I doubt that this year will bring along much to top it.


First South African review of ‘The Savage Hour’

Book Review - The Savage Hour by Elaine Proctor - Elaine is a South African who has lived abroad for decades. Her debut a few years ago, Rhumba, about a Congolese immigrant searching for his lost mother in London was excellent. The Savage Hour (just released) is an intense and beautifully written work of South African literature. It is the the story of the platteland death of a ageing Afrikaans matriarch, a farm doctor. The complex and meticulously constructed narrative describes the events preceding this death, the people touched by it, and the efforts of a lonely gay Afrikaans detective to solve it.  At its core a beautifully multi-layered story of the indignities and diminishments of old age and dementia, and sensitively excavates the deeper subjects of family, loyalty, dying, loss, forgiveness, mercy and retribution. Within it live some of the richest characters I have read in a long time, and there are a number of parallel stories underneath the main narrative that serve to construct a complex and deeply satisfying meditation on the weighty matters of being human. The book is deeply moving throughout, and the language is at times so startling that I reread sections just for the pleasure of the way Proctor combines words and ideas. This book is, at least for my money, at front of the pack for next year’s awards season. Beware though, there are scenes of almost unbearable sadness in this book. Highest recommendation. Boykey Sidley

TEDx talking with the help of the great Cartier Bresson.

How stories build communities: Elaine Proctor at TEDxASL ↘
hkapstein asked: Dear Ms Proctor, I'm an academic based in New York who works primarily on South African literature and culture. I would like to be able to write about On the Wire but I can't track down a copy of the film, and nor can my college's library. I wonder if there's any way you can provide me or my institution with a copy or if you can direct me to someone who can? Most appreciatively, Helen Kapstein

Dear Helen, thank you for your interest in ‘On The Wire’.  There is a copy at the National Film and Television School to the best of my knowledge.  If you email Laura Lundy <llundy@nfts.co.uk> she will be able to direct you to the right archive person.  If you have any trouble please get back in touch with me.  I have a copy I can send.  Yours,  Elaine 

mdumonceaux asked: Hello. My name is Manon and I study at UCL (the french-speaking Louvain university, in Belgium). This academic year, I am following a course on 'Congo literature' for which I have read Rhumba. I will be working with another student on your book (which we both appreciated, by the way) and we were wondering if we could ask you some questions about it for our paper. It would be great if you were up for it. I wanted to send you my email address but apparently I can't. Hoping to hear from you soon.M

Hello Manon, forgive me for taking so long to answer you.  Strangely, I only just became aware of it.  I’d be happy to answer your questions if it is not too late. My email is elainepb@mac.com

The Paperback edition of RHUMBA is being published in a couple of weeks and we made this to help it on its way.

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