Book Review | October : a novel by Zoë Wicomb

october book coverTaking place in South Africa and Scotland, October shares pieces of two women’s lives. Protagonist Mercia grew up fairly well off as the daughter of a teacher in the town of Kliprand with her brother Jake. Wishing to leave racial tensions and other family and village business behind, she left for university and eventually became a respected professor in Glasgow. Though successful in her work, her personal life takes a major hit when her domestic partner abruptly leaves her for another woman. Soon after, a mysteriously terse postcard arrives in the mail from Jake demanding she return home. Mercia obliges and upon returning reaquaints herself with the village ways and Jake’s wife Sylvie and son Nicky. Mercia and Sylvie seem unable to understand each other, but as pieces of the past and present come together, a deeper connection is revealed.

I read Zoë Wicomb’s book You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town and enjoyed it, which influenced my choice of this title. Appropriately, I started it in October but found myself unable to finish it for nearly two months. The characters were imaginable, but unlikeable. The descriptions were precise and allowed the reader to envision scenes clearly, however, it was sometimes hard to ascertain the actual chronological order of events. Within a chapter Wicomb could jump a timespan of over 40 years with only minimal contextual clues. Slices of life were clearly presented, but in a way that made them hard to relate to. While reading I found myself disinterested in what would ultimately happen to each of the characters. This book may resonate better with recently separated women over 50 or those who have struggled with leaving behind their homeland. Check your local library for a copy of October.

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About amy de simone
Amy is an active volunteer, traveler and photographer. She is interested in art, libraries, museums and nonprofits. She holds an M.A. in Library & Information Studies and a B.A. in Italian Language & Literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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