Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

This is my year reading South African writer Nadine Gordimer. My first experience with Gordimer’s writing came about five or six years ago when I read The Pick Up. That novel, with its subtle courage and inimitable prose, made me an instant admirer of a writer I would come to esteem more than any other. Her writing is thick – textured and nuanced, complicated and beautiful. Her subjects are always morally challenging and she extends that challenge beyond her novels through the creation of engaging human/humane characters. 

I am about to finish up her first novel, The Lying Days, published in 1953 when she was thirty years old. To say that I am impressed is a gross underestimation of how awed I actually am at the near perfection of her project, for both its writing and its political preoccupation. This example of her earliest work reveals all the wonderful potential of the writer she will grow to be, making me even more excited to continue my chronological journey through her literature.  

Here is an excerpt from her 1991 Nobel Prize Banquet Speech:

Writing is indeed, some kind of affliction in its demands as the most solitary and introspective of occupations. We writers do not have the encouragement and mateyness I imagine, and even observe, among people whose work is a group activity. We are not orchestrated; poets sing unaccompanied, and prose writers have no cue on which to come in, each with an individual instrument of expression to make the harmony or dissonance complete. We must live fully in order to secrete the substance of our work, but we have to work alone. From this paradoxical inner solitude our writing is what Roland Barthes called ‘the essential gesture’ towards the people among whom we live, and to the world; it is the hand held out with the best we have to give.

5 Responses to “Beginning Gordimer”

  1. Logophile

    What an amazing excerpt from her speech, with such a clever imagery. I admire writers precisely for the personal bravery that writing takes, such a solitary act and one that leads to perfect strangers reading your stories. This quote sums that up for me.

  2. verbivore

    Logophile – I also love this excerpt from her speech, I’ve got it written down somewhere and go back to it often.

    Dorothy – I hope you end up wanting to read her for yourself, I think she’s just wonderful!

  3. Ann Darnton

    I’ve commented here before about my desire to read Gordimer. I’m so glad you’ve said how good you thought her first novel because when I do read a writer’s works I like to do it chronologically but sometimes that can be risky if a writer hasn’t really warmed up in early works. Now I feel I can go over to the library site and order ‘The Lying Days’.

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