The Blue Door by Andre Brink
|The Blue Door by Andre Brink|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A tiny volume containing a very good story of an artist who opens on the titular door on a world and family he has never met.|
|Buy? No||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 96||Date: August 2007|
|Publisher: Harvill Secker|
David is a teacher in South Africa, who has more than dabbled with creating art. So much so that at some time in the past he started renting a studio, a place to escape to and be creative. When his wife, Lydia, found out, she thought he was having an affair. But there was none of that going on - despite being childless, the marriage is happy enough.
However one day, David has some things on his mind - errands, work, and a dodgy nightmare - when he approaches the door to his studio. Only for it to open on the bizarre - a sexy, black wife (Sarah) he has never met, two peskily lively children, and an entire cottage home where his studio had been.
What's more, when he tries to get home (to his "real" home), things get even weirder. His whole apartment block acts strange - lifts misbehave, stairways (when he can find them) are odd, and wise old men who might be able to give him advice age before his eyes and suggest three hundred years' worth of patience.
What follows is a very interesting mix of the dreamlike and the realistic. There is the mundane detail for David to worry about, as well as the fantastic. If you have suddenly entered a bizarre new world, and want, reasonably enough, for it to be the simple life you know and expect, if only a temporary replacement for it, how would you go about it? If someone has been married to you for nine years without you ever knowing her, how do you get into bed with her - naked, or more coyly?
The writing is very finely layered with a lot of metaphors and themes, in varying degrees of depth. The racist past of South Africa is unavoidable, so that's here to some extent. But mostly there are resonances that last long past the book's finish - what does it mean to be familiar to other people? Do we really know those people we are married to and living with? Are we just acting to get along happily? Where does the real 'me' end and what other people see begin?
Add all this to an artistic bent that David (and Sarah) have, and you get a literate little story, told with a very nice first person narrative. Sure, David gets understandably panicky at times, but on the whole he brings to his story a clipped, controlled, almost European style - and I would call the sensitivity of the story itself European (it's no mistake for it to admit its Kafkaesque leanings on its first page).
It's a style right up my street, and I enjoyed the mish-mash of nightmare and unknowable realism that it contains (unknowable because - well, which life is for real, in the end? Are either of them?). But heck, if I'd been made to pay for this book...
Perhaps I'm showing my age but I remember the umbrage people took when huge, hefty hardbacks first cost more than £9.99. I also remember how I was puzzled with all the childrens' "pocket books" and how they would never fit in anyone's pocket. This book does. And it's £10.99 to you.
What's more, the book started out as a promotional freebie, last year in South Africa. I'm very glad it's been given an outlet in the rest of the world, but come on. Brink knows what he's doing in crafting a well-measured, multi-layered story that is very commendable, but it's a story - certainly not a novel, and certainly not worth £11 for an hours' reading. This deserves a much bigger audience than the RRP will ever allow. I hope it soon reappears in a compilation or much cheaper paperback for everyone to enjoy, as I'm sure they will.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Blue Door by Andre Brink at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Blue Door by Andre Brink at Amazon.com.
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