Thursday, 3 November 2016

For the Mercy of Water

Well, after the last post, I did finally find something to read. And it still hasn't let me go. Perhaps it’s the reality of recent water restrictions, of taps running dry in the middle of the day in some places that I still feel faintly haunted by For the Mercy of Water by Karen Jayes.

Set in a believable drought-ridden future, water has been privatised and is controlled by “the company” and its violent militias. Society is polarised into cities that are serviced by the company and the parched rural areas that have been largely abandoned. This novel occupies a strange position between the real and the allegorical. Although the country (and most of the characters) remain unnamed, I recognised in the scarred landscape a shadow of the current South Africa. As a critic stated, "A society that has lived through the Marikana massacre and the slaughter of Anene Booysen should recognise something in both Jayes's projection of rural districts subordinated to corporate imperatives, and in the repeated depictions of gender violence and rape, never lurid but clear eyed, or be ashamed."

The bleak yet startling quality of the writing reminded me of Andre Brink. It's the kind of writing that can flip from words that are spiky and cruel to starkly beautiful in a sentence.The right to water, gender and sexual violence, are themes that play out on the body and the landscape described through Jayes's visceral prose. The language of the body and the landscape are devastatingly, beautifully intertwined. Another critic points out, "For the Mercy of Water draws on enmeshed metaphorical relationships between the categories of female, the body and nature on the one hand, and the categories of male, the mind and culture on the other. In this sense, the war waged over water (nature) is also a war waged over the female body."

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