The protagonist of this book is a man called Mehring, a white South African, and being set in the 1970s the apartheid is the major theme beneath the characters. Mehring is a rich business man (made his money in pig iron) cum part time farmer who manages his farm largely remotely from the civilisation of the city with the help of his black farm workers.
The farm was initially purchased as a bolt hole for him with a married woman, but it has failed to impress her and the relationship is something discussed in the past tense. He has odd relationships with both women and men, friends and family but seems on one part a socialite but on another a hermit who wants nothing more than to be away from everyone and cut all ties of a meaningful relationship.
I didn’t really like this book, I felt like I spent the whole time waiting for it to start, for something to happen with any number of the characters who are introduced. But it never felt like it gained any momentum to me.
Whilst the apartheid ended over 20 years ago, it’s impact is still very much an issue in modern South Africa and the issues Gordimer puts the spotlight on in this book feel equally relevant today, across the world as I’m sure they did in 1974. I felt that Mehring’s unlikeable character is largely due to the way in which he views and treats his black farm workers (like deciding a suitable reward for them saving his cattle and farm from a severe flood would be a pack of cigarettes to share).
The book was a joint winner from 1974 so the next Booker winner I’m going to read (aside from my current audio book list) is the Holiday by Stanley Middleton – so I can make a judgement as to which I’d of picked as my 1974 winner…. I’m really hoping it’s the holiday as I,m not sure I can put myself through another book like the conservationist back to back. Watch this space.
Read on: Kindle
Read: May / June 2015