I was familiar with Damon Galgut’s work from The Good Doctor, which was shortlisted for the Booker in 2003, so when I saw The Impostor as an audio book I borrowed it from the library. It’s very good indeed…
It’s the story of Adam Napier, a bit of a loser, who comes to live in a small town in the Karoo (South Africa). He’s lost his job to a Black African intern that he himself trained, because in the new post apartheid South Africa, white men do – though you get the impression that Adam was probably not much good at his job anyway. He certainly doesn’t have any initiative: his brother warns him that his neighbourhood is going down-market and he should sell his house while he can, but he doesn’t, and he ends up dependent on his more successful brother for a roof over his head. Living in a run-down house that Gavin has as a holiday place, Adam makes no attempt to clean it up and the weeds which grow profusely are a metaphor for the way life has overtaken him.
By chance he meets up with Kenneth Canning, who recognises him from school days, though Napier has no memory of this. Canning is a small-time developer, out of his depth because he doesn’t really understand just how corrupt his business partner is. Napier knows nothing about this until it’s too late: he gets sucked into being complicit in dodgy deals and as an unwitting participant he ends up at risk of real harm.
Nearly all the characters are impostors. Adam is, because he claims to be writing poetry when in fact he’s drifted into inertia; Canning is, because he’s not really Napier’s friend at all. Baby, Canning’s wife is no innocent at all, and the A-list crowd at the developer’s party are all phonies too. Even Napier’s neighbour turns out to be not who he seems to be. I think this is a metaphor for the new South Africa: posturing as a great democracy in the after-glow from the Mandela era when in fact corruption and crime is rife, and very little progress has been made in improving the lives of the black majority especially in the countryside.
Although it’s not a thriller in the conventional sense, there’s a rather Graham Greene quality to Damon Galgut’s characterisation and plotting which kept me intrigued to the end. The narration by Humphrey Bower is very well done indeed.
Perhaps not yet in the league of Andre Brink or J.M.Coetzee, Galgut is certainly a writer to watch.
Author: Damon Galgut
Title: The Impostor
Narrator: Humphrey Bower
Publisher: Bolinda Audio, 2009
Source: Casey-Cardinia Library.