North Facing by Tony Peake

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North Facing by Tony Peake

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: A compelling look into a childhood in 1960's South Africa, North Facing is as engaging as it is thought-provoking, providing an uncannily perceptive glimpse into the dramas and traumas of childhood in a period of turbulent change
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 176 Date: October 2017
Publisher: Myriad Editions
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0995590021

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At school in Pretoria in 1962, Paul Harvey struggles to fit in - desperate to join the popular group no matter what it may take. His focus on surviving the perils of school so intense, that he fails to see the turbulence in both South Africa and the larger world - with the arrest of Nelson Mandela and the Cuban Missile Crisis affecting the actions of the adults around him. A new and charismatic teacher decides to educate the boys in the unstable situation in the world outside - and a growing awareness of both that and his sexuality pushes Paul Harvey into decisions that he later comes to regret - and their weight pushes him to return to South Africa in the present day - a man in his sixties keen to make sense of a troubled and darkly compelling past.

Tony Peake, like Paul Harvey, was born in South Africa. Since moving to London, he's published several novels and a biography of Derek Jarman, as well as a number of short stories. His experiences - both in terms of sexuality and of growing up in South Africa lend the events of North Facing an immediate intimacy - and a remarkably strong sense of place - the South African heat blending perfectly with the fire of teenage angst to create a read that's both evocative and, especially in conclusion, exceptionally moving. Beautifully plotted, the reader is instantly connected to Paul as a character - and his journey is, despite the heightened drama that is perhaps necessary in order to create a compelling plot, relatable to anyone who was ever a teen.

Writing as a man looking back on his childhood allows Peake to feed in glimpses of the outside world to the sheltered private school setting, and it works remarkably well - an innocence of childhood shattered in a way that feels realistic in the power of the emotion that Peake conveys - always with intelligent perception. Thoroughly compelling and unexpectedly moving, North Facing is a fascinating portrait of both a childhood and a country. Many thanks to the publishers for the copy.

For further reading, I recommend A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale - another read that blends themes of discovery and sexuality with a transporting sense of time and place. For more about South Africa, we can recommend A British Lion in Zululand by William Wright. It's set in a slightly earlier time, but you might enjoy The Rowing Lesson by Anne Landsman. We can also recommend The Dubious Salvation Of Jack V. by Jacques Strauss and The Day of the Orphan by Dr Nat Tanoh.

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