Readers familiar with André Brink’s oeuvre are likely to experience his 24th novel, Philida, with a sense of déjà vu. Familiar scenes, familiar characters and explicit references to some of his previous novels, especially his other “slave novel”, A Chain of Voices, not to mention the perennial theme of freedom, might give readers the impression that they have read all of this before. Despite the familiar ring, however, there are many good reasons why Philida is well worth reading. Some of these reasons must have made an impression on the Booker Prize judges, too, because they included Philida in the Booker long list for 2012.
One good reason to read Philida is to enjoy Brink in full flight as a master of storytelling. Slavery is by no means a cheerful topic and the horrifying truth of it all is exposed in the narrative by keeping a close check on archival research. Such an offering might easily have become a little too harrowing for many readers, but Brink balances the narration with comedy, although the humour is often distinctly dark. In addition, Brink manages to evoke, in his narration, a sense of enchantment and wonder – a combination requiring a special kind of storytelling genius.
- Philida by André Brink
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