Debut novel by Caine Prize shortlisted writer.
Sara Highbury, now forty-eight years old and the manageress of a boarding house, is living in the aftermath of a love affair with Herbert Wakeford, a one-time diamond digger who suffers from a degenerative brain disease. Years after their relationship ended, Sara is still haunted by Herbert and what passed between them.
Set against the backdrop of the early 1900s South African mines and the vast landscapes that connected these to Cape Town, this is a story of the loss of person and identity, and the struggle to hold on to life and love. As the illness takes hold, Sara watches Herbert being blown this way and that by his thoughts. In the years that follow, he is to spend much of his life in an institution, coming to visit Sara now and then, and she him. An unlikely affair leads to Herbert being named the father of an apprentice girl’s child. The baby is abandoned outside Herbert’s sanatorium and unable to keep her, he sends the child, Aloma Maggie, to Sara who reluctantly takes her in.
Now in 1945, on the eve of Herbert’s funeral, having tracked Sara down to her new position in the boarding house, an old friend, Amin Hafferjee, a one-time quality-controller at a fruit processing plant, brings news about this girl, news that will challenge all that Sara has held dear.
With the backdrop of a rural landscape and characters that are as memorable as they are unexpected, The Shape of Him
introduces a writer whose spare, exquisitely crafted prose places her deservedly in the tradition of the best of South African literary fiction.
Gill Schierhout was born in Zimbabwe in 1967.She holds a Doctorate in Public Health and has worked as an academic and consultant in London and Southern Africa.She has twice been a finalist in the HSBC/SA Pen literary award and was short listed for the Caine Prize for African writing in 2008.She now lives in Sydney, Australia.
Every twist of fate and irony, every turn a life can take – and does – stalks Sara Highbury. The weight of memory burdens her days and her brief experience of happiness settles into a travesty of retribution. South African Gill Schierhout imposes an austere intelligence and sense of regret on this remarkable narrative. If any novel published this year deserves to collect a truckload of honours, it is this one. No reader could be prepared for the complex tale that unfolds. It is a beautiful book, as bleak as love – or whatever it is that passes for love – and as heartbreaking,Written with an elliptical elegance reminiscent of Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient
, this is a strong debut about the grip of memory and the power of one life to impose itself upon another