Still Life

Zoë Wicomb. New Press, $25.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-62097-610-4
Wicomb (You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town) undertakes a virtuosic metafictional biography of the obscure 19th-century Scottish poet Thomas Pringle, a contemporary of Sir Walter Scott cited here as the “Father of South African poetry.” At the center is an unnamed writer, struggling to meet her deadlines for her Pringle bio and to appease her publisher and agent. Eventually, she locates Pringle by going back in time while sitting at her desk, where “shafts of light snap at the spectral figures flailing, writhing in their am-dram poses.” While traveling through space and time, the writer attempts to render a full narrative of the poet, who was an outspoken abolitionist. Along for the journey are Mary Prince, a slave from the West Indies who becomes Pringle’s subject in the first female slave narrative to be published in England; the ghost of Hinza Marossi, the native child Pringle adopts as a son; the gregarious Elizabethan poet Nicholas Greene; a character from Virginia Woolf’s Orlando; and Vytje, a servant girl who may have been Pringle’s lover. Together, they navigate a story Pringle calls “neither fish nor fowl, neither fact nor fiction.” The adventurous if scrambled approach doesn’t quite justify itself as an alternative to straight fictional biography, but the author impresses with her deep dive into the minutiae of world literature. Wicomb’s experiment succeeds by exploring the question of who gets to write history. (Nov.)
Reviewed on : 09/10/2020
Release date: 11/01/2020
Genre: Fiction
Open Ebook - 978-1-62097-611-1
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