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October

by Zoe Wicomb

Mercia Murray has left and been left. First she fled her family in apartheid South Africa, and, decades later, her Scottish partner has left her for another woman. In the midst of this betrayal, the idea of home presents itself as a complicated remedy when Mercia's brother asks her to return to Kliprand and save his son from the destitution.

Since Mercia left the Northern Cape, Jake has become an alcoholic and married Sylvie, a precocious butcher who poses with a string of sausages wrapped around her neck. Sylvie and Mercia circle each other, wary, and struggle to negotiate common ground while Jake lies drunk in a darkened room.

Charmed as she is by her nephew, Mercia is just as cautious about adopting Nicky as she has been reluctant to have children of her own. She was always horrifed by the Scottish salmon who swim desperately upstream to lay eggs in the same riverbeds where they themselves were spawned. In OCTOBER, neither family nor home stay put, rather, Wicomb reveals their uncanny knack for migrating far from comfort and nostalgia. In the case of the Murrays, the idea of belonging is constantly under threat and they soon discover that the family home was built on secrets and preserved by lies.

OCTOBER is concerned with autobiography in all its forms, whether the telling manifests as Mercia's halting attempts at memoir or Sylvie's photographic self-portraits. The art of cultivating a self is labourious and riddled with doubt, and Mercia struggles with the reproduction of texts and images as much as she does with childbirth. The tension at the heart of OCTOBER lies at the point where self-presentation and self-preservation collide, and Wicomb conjures each act so vividly that her characters sear through the novel as bright and as breakable as the purple Vygie flowers of autumn in the Cape.

Zoe Wicomb is a South African author and Emiritus Professor at the University of Strathclyde. Her first collection of short stories, YOU CAN'T GET LOST IN CAPETOWN, won praise from Toni Morrison and J.M. Coetzee. She went on to write two novels, DAVID'S STORY and PLAYING IN THE LIGHT, and another collection of short stories, THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY. In 2013, she was awarded the presitigous Windham-Campbell Prize from Yale University.

Published by The New Press, 258pp.

Eve Lacey

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