25 April 2016

Review: The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner

Benny Summerfield meets Irving Braxiatel and the Doctor meets Sherlock Holmes in my reviews at Unreality SF this week, of the audio adaptations two-fer Theatre of War and All-Consuming Fire.

Trade paperback, 301 pages
Published 2005 (originally 1883)
Acquired and read March 2016
The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner

I was a bit surprised at this novel: it's published in 1883, so the same year Wilkie Collins finished Heart and Science, and the year after Thomas Hardy wrote Two on a Tower. Yet its much more prescient of modernism than either of those late Victorian works, reminding me more of early James Joyce or E. M. Forster than Schreiner's actual contemporaries. It has a fragmented, difficult style, but one appropriate to its subject matters, about the difficulties of coping with massive complex systems like religion and patriarchy while living on the fringe of the massive complex system that is empire-- though Schreiner is seemingly way less interested in interrogating its complications than she is those of gender and religion. I liked it, but I wanted to love it; I frequently enjoyed the detached narrative voice, but sometimes found it more difficult than I felt was necessary. There was some engrossing stuff (the horrific victimization of children by Bonaparte Blenkins), some funny stuff (Bonaparte's more comedic escapades) some great stuff (Bonaparte's final comeuppance), some intriguing stuff (young Waldo's adventures in the world), some startling stuff ("'Waldo,' she said, 'Lyndall is dead'" is such a powerful sentence), and some weird and offputting stuff (most of the last couple chapters). Probably worth another read someday, and I would certainly teach it; I don't think I've read another book quite like it.

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