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Booker Longlist 2021 – The Promise

Damon Galgut - The Promise

Book 7 – Read by 6 of the panel and reviewed by Nicole, Jen & Lisa

Synopsis from Booker Prize website: The Promise charts the crash and burn of a white South African family, living on a farm outside Pretoria. The Swarts are gathering for Ma’s funeral. The younger generation, Anton and Amor, detest everything the family stand for, not  least the failed promise to the Black woman who has worked for them her whole life. After years of service, Salome was promised her own house, her own land… yet somehow, as each decade passes, that promise remains unfulfilled.

The narrator’s eye shifts and blinks: moving fluidly between characters, flying into their dreams; deliciously lethal in its observation. And as the country moves from old deep divisions to its new so-called fairer society, the lost promise of more than just one family hovers behind the novel’s title.

In this story of a diminished family, sharp and tender emotional truths hit home. Confident, deft and quietly powerful, The Promise is literary fiction at its finest.

Damon Galgut is a novelist whose work has been published in 16 languages. He has twice been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and is a past winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. His most recent novel, Arctic Summer, was awarded the 2015 Sunday Times Fiction Prize, and two films were made of his book The Quarry. He lives and works in Cape Town.

Nicole’s Thoughts: The premise of this book didn’t appeal to me at all, but I gave it a chance because of the Booker nomination.  The first thing that grabbed me was the writing … This is exactly the kind of writing I love.  A little quirky, a little funny, a little beautiful.  

I remained skeptical that I would like the book, but at a certain point I realized that it was more than just great writing and I fell in love with it.   

This is a story of a family.  This is a story of South Africa.  I’d argue that South Africa is the main character.  Both the family and South Africa are flawed.  Through the dynamics of the family we follow South Africa from apartheid through current day.  Nobody is particularly likable.  This is not a “family is the most important thing” group of people.  It felt real. 

Not hopeful, not happy – but incredibly done.  I won’t be at all surprised to see this on the shortlist.  I can’t wait to read more by Galgut. 

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 5/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 4/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 19/20

Jen’s Thoughts: Stylistically quite brilliant and the writing was wonderful. This book was interesting to me since I loved the writing more than the content or narrative development. Overall I enjoyed the book although the switching perspectives did make it difficult to connect to any one character although granted the characters were mostly dislikable. On the other hand, the switching perspectives gives the reader a more comprehensive and well rounded view of the family dynamics. I think it definitely belongs on the shortlist. 

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 5/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 17/20

Lisa’s Thoughts: I thought the premise sounded interesting… the novel is centered around 4 successive deaths in a family and how the family and society have changed and not changed from the time of one death to the next. However, I did not like the constantly shifting point of view. I might just start to become interested in one character, such as Amor, with whom the book starts, and then BOOM shift to the next. It left the different family members seeming one-dimensional to me. Overall, I found the writing itself to be fine but not outstanding in any way. I don’t see what elevates this novel so much that it deserves the Booker prize. Thus, my middle-of-the road score. 

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 3/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 11/20

Ratings:

BookWorm’s Rating: When I read this back in June I thought this had all the makings of a Booker book and I was right.

This book didn’t work for me as a reader but it definitely deserves its place on the longlist and I am sure it will be loved by many readers.

Writing quality: 3/5
Originality: 3/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 12/20

Anita’s Rating: Technically a masterpiece, but too clinical for my taste.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 14/20

Tracy’s Ratings

Writing quality: 3/5
Originality: 2/5
Character development: 3.5/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 12.5/20

Rankings so far
Bewilderment 19.25/20
No one is Talking about This 16.83
Second Place 16
The Promise 14.25
A Passage North 13.83
Klara and the Sun 13.3
China Room 13.1

Mixed feelings from the panel…how do you feel about this one?

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. I have only read one book by this author, and it didn’t work for me: https://wordsandpeace.com/2011/12/08/89-review-in-a-strange-room/

    Like

    August 26, 2021
  2. i’m really looking forward to reading more of his

    Like

    August 26, 2021

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