Tuesday 4 August 2015

Caine Prize 2015 – The Sack by Namwali Serpell


I’ve been reading this short story by Zambian writer Namwali Serpell, with my online book club buddies at Constant Reader and you can follow the discussion here where much of the discussion surrounding our understanding of eactly what happened at the end. The ending left us debating 3 possible scenarios. Don’t let that put you off reading this little masterpiece as it is, I suspect, a classic Serpelian play with uncertainty!

The author is a Zambian writer and It is the story of two old men as they wait for the imminent death of one of them who is sick. The other men, his lifelong friend cares for him during this period. They have a past together – they are old freedom fighters who both fell in love with the same woman, whose death they are mourning each in their own ways. This unsteady calm is rocked by the arrival of a young boy selling fish. The writer executes the story in an unusual way with one strand telling the story chronologically in real time, whilst the other is a dream like sequence told in reverse of what happens after the death of the old man. It is almost like you have to finish the story, then reread only this second thread to get the full chronology.

Here is a good interview with Serpell after she won the Caine Prize for Fiction in 2015 and a video of her reading come of her work – just speed forward past the awful high pitched American voice who introduces the video with her consistently raised pitch end of sentences which are not questions  - an style of intonation that is sadly too common in today’s thirty something women. She reads first a short story which is sci-fi in style, then the first chapter entitled C from a forthcoming novel with the working Title Furrow. There is some interesting Q&A at the end where she describes her style and method of writing, albeit that the video mic has not picked up the actual questions.

ashramblings verdict 5* – One to watch out for - looking forward to her novel coming out This is a writer we shall hear a lot more of judging from this story.


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