July’s People – Nadine Gordimer

I have to say that Book Group last night was the perfect tonic for my current mind frame, it was lovely to see everyone and to meet a new member. In fact we had two new members as one of the group is pregnant, some very joyful news, and we are all already calling it Book Group Baby, so it really was just the right evening for me and I am so glad I went. I am doubly glad as we had a fantastic discussion about the book ‘July’s People’ by Nadine Gordimer. One thing that always irks me after book group is I have so much to say about a book my thoughts on the blog never encapsulate everything, but then again you wouldn’t want to read the book if everything was spelt out would you?

I think its best for me to be straight with you all and say I went into reading ‘July’s People’ with certain expectations. I thought ‘this will be a gory and horrific tale of the tumultuous events in South Africa, its going to be emotional shocking and something bad will happen to the main characters’ and that interestingly isn’t the case at all with this book. The actual story follows the flight from the city of white couple Bam and Maureen Smales have been living in luxury for years. Their saviour is their servant of fifteen years July who drives them to the safety of his village, a poverty stricken village where food must be caught and money has no real value. From here on in through the eyes of all the characters involved we look at how life changes for all the parties involved as they wait for whatever fate has in store for them and as they struggle to gain a new order of power in their new situations.

Despite being written through many characters eyes, in a slightly disorientating style which I will come to in a moment, the tale really gravitates around Maureen. A woman who clearly believes she was the best mistress a servant could have has her eyes shockingly opened and yet fights it. She feels gratitude for being rescued and then as the power shifts her true colours slowly emerge. She also never really fits in, though does she actually try to or is she a woman trapped? I found the idea of the story really interesting; it looks at how some whites had treated blacks and how things could be when roles are reversed. I say could be because I later found out this book was written by Gordimer as a possible future prediction for South Africa and was what she thought could happen not what actually happened, once I knew that afterwards the book in a strange way made much more sense.

The other thing that threw me at first apart from trying to place this historically was Gordimer’s writing style. I actually had to read the opening chapter three times to gain any gist of it because very like a certain Miss Woolf there is a stream of consciousness to it. You hop skip and jump between characters and their thoughts not only between paragraphs but also on occasion in between sentences. Interestingly I adapted to it and ended up, about 30 pages in, forgetting how it was written because I was very much in the story will the people. The discussion the book raised was great and we all agreed we liked the book and would read Gordimer again.

One subject that I raised which we talked about at some length at the end was how we read a book and what we expect from it. I noticed that for me both the writing and the setting not being based on truth and instead being the author’s vision caused problems in initially getting into the book. Other people agreed with this and said they were reading thinking ‘this book has real major plot’ or ‘this isn’t how a book is normally written’ but we all then agreed ‘why should it?’ which raises interesting questions about how as readers we read. Do we just expect a book to spell out everything for us? Why do we assume every book has to be based somewhere on fact?

It’s food for thought and opens up a whole new discussion which I will leave for another day, maybe I’ll create a post about it in the next week or so and we can all discuss it here further in the future; I need to mull it all over more first myself. As you can see’ July’s People’ is a great book for discussion in more ways than one, it wont be a book for everyone and you have to work at it but the rewards and questions it brings are well worth it.


Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Book Group, Nadine Gordimer, Review

23 responses to “July’s People – Nadine Gordimer

  1. Sounds like an intriguing read and good book group book. I need to read some Gorimer for my VMC challenge (but this isn’t one of them) so I am quite interested after reading this post and hearing about it from Claire.

    • I definately want to read much more of her work, I found it fascinating and I liked the challange it was for me in some ways. It’s made me aware of my reading habits.

  2. I haven’t read Gordimer but I recently got one of her books at a book swap recently, My Son’s Story. It’s interesting to finally read a Gordimer book review in the blogosphere. I haven’t come across one yet.

    • I need to find more of her work in the libraries for definite as she is a very intriguing author, especially when you learn much more about her as a person. She turned down the Orange prize as she didnt like a prize just for women.

  3. I’m sorry I missed the discussion as it sounds like a great one! Who is having book group baby?!

    I’ve just posted my thoughts.

    I’m confused by the point you raised about your expectations and the issues that come from it not being based in fact … isn’t that they point of fiction? I think I needed to have been there to understand where you are coming from. I don’t assume that there has to be a basis of facts in a novel that I read; I read non fiction for that and am all about the freedom of literary imagination and if that extends to the real world and what could be or could have been, then all the better.

    • I know fiction is fiction. I found it interesting about my own reading mentality that I assumed the book was based on fact without having read a line. There were a few others who did the same thing in the group and ‘assumptions of readers’ was another one of the discussions.

      My brains quite fried this week I maybe didnt explain it as well as should have!

      Gemma is having Book Group Baby! Very, very excited. I have known a while but was nice everyone could share and lifted the spirits of my week aswell as the group itself did.

      • Oh yay for Gemma! That’s lovely news.

        I understand the assumption, sometimes we can as readers read something thinking that those things actually happened, that it is historically accurate, especially when it is so plausible.

      • I think thats definitely where I went with this book Claire, but am glad its pointed out that slight glitch/laziness with my reading as can work on it.

  4. I haven’t read any Gordimer yet. I think I’ve always been a little intimidated by her, though I really know nothing about her novels. Silly,yes, and probably time to remedy, perhaps with July’s People.

    • I think if I had known more about her before I started I could have felt intimidated too Claire so not silly at all. I am trying at the moment to go into the books I read with no prior knowledge of the situations or expectations as they can cause issues (as actually dicussed over on Other Stories yesterday with Vanessa and Virginia) and it works so much better.

  5. I think I would struggle with the stream-of-consciousness style (having never got through a Woolfe book yet) but the premise sounds really intriguing so I do want to try and read this one.

  6. Readers’ expectations is an interesting issue, isn’t it? I think I have learnt not to expect anything from a book, to simply go on the journey and see where it will take me. It helped that I once did a creative writing course and it was bloody difficult to write anything that I was pleased with. Do you know how horrifying it is to read out your prose to an audience who are waiting with the knives out to destroy your efforts? It is horrific!

    What I liked most about Gordimer’s style was the fact it just went completely against the grain of everything I’ve been taught to do in terms of writing PLAIN ENGLISH. The sentences have the verbs in the wrong places and are littered with sub-clauses, but once I got into it and stopped letting it worry me, I really enjoyed the ryhthm and flow of it. I liked that it felt fresh and new to me, and that it challenged my perceptions of what makes good prose.

    I really want to read more by her now, but where to start? Have you seen her back catalogue – it’s HUGE!

    • I thought it was interesting how a lot of us thought it was real and as you mentioned at the group Kim how you found you had to go away and double check that your thoughts on the apartheid were correct on Wiki. (Its a gift and a curse that site.)

      I try to simply go on a journey with a book so I am unsure why I made such assumptions with this book from the off? It could just be one of lifes great mysteries haha.

      I too liked the originality and almost rule breaking of writing style that we know too.

      I am umming and ahhing about trying her Booker winner next and seeing how I get on with that. I dont mean next as in my next read I just mean the next time I give Gordimer a go.

  7. farmlanebooks

    I wish I had been there as it sounds as though you had a really interesting discussion. I didn’t know the story behind this book until I read everyones reviews today. I think it makes me see the book in a different light.

    I’m so pleased to hear about Gemma’s baby – great news!

    • It was a fantastic discussion and it was a book that discussing seemed to bring alive even more for me and I came away going from having quite liked to to thinking it was actually wonderfully clever and very well written. I had that seeing it in a different light moment too. It’s a shame I cant have a book group for every book I read ha, mind you thats whats interesting about people commenting on a book if they have read it on blogs I guess.

  8. Mome Rath

    The writing style you describe sounds similar to The Conservationist, the only other book of Gordimer’s that I’ve read. A book that I liked, but didn’t love — though she does have a way with words.
    The plot for this book is enough to make me try reading her again, though. I’m curious to see how Gordimer envisioned the overthrow of apartheid.
    I loved the movie Invictus last year since it reminded me of how close South Africa came to unraveling shortly after Mandela came into office. And if Mandela had not fought so hard to make sure the white minority was not marginalized, it might have. Instead, South Africa is an example of how a state can move forward from past wrongs with forgiveness and reconciliation.

    • Its a book I think I will be recommending to people. You need to have some patience with the start and just see how you get on with it and not expect too much from it like I did and I think you will instantly be on the right reading foot with it.

  9. Pingback: How We Read… Assumptions & Expectations « Savidge Reads

  10. Pingback: July’s People – Nadine Gordimer – Farm Lane Books Blog

  11. Chandra Luitel

    the book best shows how women are mere objects of possession for male.

  12. kate

    Hey i’m here for a help in July’s people! im not going to make a comment about what’s written above but instead i think u have info for this story July’s people! ok i have to write about the construction of time in July’s people and seacred for it but didnt have that enough of information about so if u please help me to get the constuction of time

    thank you:)

  13. kate

    Hey i’ve just read whats written above! and since you know about July’s people im here for a help! i have to write about the construction of time in july’s people but im facing some difficulties so do u know about time like what happened on the past, prsent and future!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s