24 February 2010

Dambudzo Marechera, Black Sunlight, 1980

Marechera was the kind of off-beat Zimbabwean writer that did himself no favours, one who ended his life sleeping on Harare’s park benches refusing to talk to his family. He was either mad or blessed with, as some believed, a taint of genius, and his small output of work continues to attract attention with the reissue of his second novel in Penguin’s newly launched African Writers Series. A photojournalist whose name may or may not be Christian becomes connected to a violent rebel organisation that may or may not be called Black Sunlight, in a country that may or may not be Zimbabwe. What Marechera is doing in this odd and, yes, awkward book is explore anarchism as an intellectual position. Written when he was in his mid-twenties, the story bounces between Christian’s marriage to his blind wife Marie, to liaisons with several women (all of whom are necessarily spectacular in bed), to his work covering student riots and the shadowy world of Black Sunlight. There’s an interesting passage in which he meets a doppelgänger of himself and discusses violence, plus there are several sections in the latter parts of the book that indulge in philosophy-fuelled rants of the sixth-form variety (Marechera also studied at Oxford, before being kicked out). One surprise was that he name-checked John Wyndham and Clark Ashton Smith, although not in a particularly complimentary way. I didn’t particularly like this book at all; it’s vain, inconsistent and weakly plotted (if there is much of a plot at all), and gives the strong impression of a talented young writer who didn’t yet know how to say with clarity what he needed to say.  PY

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1 comment:

Eshuneutics said...

Not a particulary useful review. A lot of biographical cliches are included to little real point (beyond the obvious, which suggests that Marechera was a mad and bad writer writing a mad and bad novel). For a novel to be plotted, there must be a fixed self with reference points. As Black Sunlight is about loss of reference points and self, to read it for plot is rather pointless. The faults here relate to the method of reading, not the novel.