Poetic and thought provoking

2012-08-29 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

For the Mercy of Water

Karen Jayes

Penguin

THIS is a first novel from South African journalist and creative writing lecturer Karen Jayes.

It presents the reader with a metaphoric story of a land and people deprived of water, and explores the power dynamics in such a situation. The writing is lyrical and evokes an external landscape and inner emotional field vividly.

While these landscapes are carefully imagined with convincing detail, the lack of names universalises the story and situation.

The main focus of the novel lies in the horrors experienced by the least powerful or significant in society — young girls. The narrator visits an area where water has been found, and the local population exploited and dispersed, because of rumours of an elderly grandmother who has been protecting and healing young girls.

The symbolism within the story resonates, inviting the reader to extrapolate the particular situation to an understanding of how male violence destroys and maims not only human beings but the very spirit of compassion itself.

Jayes exposes the injustice inherent in a world focused on the survival of the fittest with little concern for the vulnerable — a story needing to be told over and over again.

She does this through an evocation of the numinous nature of the landscape and our relationship to it and through upholding the importance of an intimate and fierce concern for vulnerability.

Underlying this theme is the question of responsibility — whose responsibility is it to protect the environment and fight against our failure of humanity, if not each individual?

This is a deeply serious and thought-provoking book, which speaks directly to the issues of our time through the poetic writing of an accomplished artist.

 

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