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The House Gun Hardcover – January 31, 1998


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 294 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (January 31, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374173079
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374173074
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #560,751 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"There is no privacy more inviolable than that of the prisoner. To visualize that cell in which he is thinking, to reach what he alone knows; that is a blank in the dark."

Privileged whites in post-apartheid South Africa, Harald and Claudia Lindgard have managed to live the better part of 50 years without ever confronting the deepest shadows in their culture or in their own souls. Though they conceive of themselves as liberal-minded, neither has ever taken any active political stand; neither has ever been in any black person's home. Harald sits on the board of an insurance company; Claudia is a compassionate doctor. Neither of them has ever been inside a courtroom before; neither has ever been inside a prison. When their architect-son, Duncan, is arrested for murder, both know that the charge is preposterous. But Duncan himself fails to deny his guilt, and his parents are brought by a harsh and ungainly process to accept the possibility that he has committed an unthinkable crime.

Nadine Gordimer's The House Gun is a gravely sustained exploration of their long-delayed but necessary descent into an intimate acquaintance with the culture of violence that surrounds them and that is "the common hell of all who are associated with it." The novel is a mystery, but not in the usual sense of the whodunit. Here the question of who quickly gives way to why and thence to other, still deeper quandaries of culpability, both immediate and ultimate. The enigmatic Duncan becomes a dark mirror in which his stunned parents must desperately grope for a new vision of themselves and their world--a vision that will not shatter, as their old one has, under a single blow from reality.

Gordimer's prose is mannered and severe; humor is rare, or absent. "As the couple emerge into the foyer of the courts, vast and lofty cathedral echoing with the susurration of its different kind of supplicants gathered there, Claudia suddenly breaks away, disappearing towards the sign indicating toilets. Harald waits for her among these people patient in trouble, no choice to be otherwise, for them, he is one of them, the wives, husbands, fathers, lovers, children of forgers, thieves and murderers." This difficult exposition is the reader's own dark mirror, where we as spectators fumble from one dubious explanation to the next--a twisted reflection always reminding us that, underlying this social tragedy, there is a mystery play in the old sense, and an unanswerable question: What is a human being? Paragraph after paragraph, the reader is led into deeper and deeper perceptions of the sensibilities and the dilemmas of these characters--into a quiet intimacy with their trouble that is sometimes acutely uncomfortable, but which pays off richly in an ending that reconciles our sense of the horror of violence with our desire to believe in the value of each life. --Daniel Hintzsche

From Library Journal

Harald and Claudia, highly successful professionals (he heads up an insurance company, she is a physician), find their comfortable life in post-apartheid South Africa turned upside down when their only son is accused of murdering one of his housemates, using the communal "house gun" they had purchased for protection. The parents are dumbfounded when Duncan does not deny the crime. How could their son be a murderer, and are they somehow to blame? Duncan acted out of jealousy, but was it heterosexual jealousy or something else? He is going to be defended by a black attorney. Will the attorney's lack of courtroom experience be a liability, or will his race favorably influence the judge? Harald and Claudia are ashamed to find themselves asking these questions. Nobel laureate Gordimer's book is much more ambitious than the plot-driven thrillers of Scott Turow or John Grisham. It is a novel of ideas that investigates troubling issues of race and gender, but it is also a subtle character study that avoids easy stereotypes. Gordimer's trademark prose style, with its sudden shifts of voice and points of view, seems especially well suited to capturing the moral ambiguities of South African life. Highly recommended.
-?Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch., Los Angeles
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Linda K. Crawford on September 13, 2002
Format: Paperback
I'm baffled by the negative reviews this book has garnered here; I suppose it's more of a reaction to Gordimer's subject matter than to her style or content. People are more comfortable with a revolutionary spouting rhetoric that they agree with: if you, as a reader, are still wrapping your brain around the reality of South Africa as it was, Gordimer's earlier works will ring more true with you. If, however, you are interested in the legacy of Apartheid as it is, The House Gun will resonate more. The House Gun, so to speak, will only fire in the direction in which you point it.
As with all Gordimer works, the pace is slow and deliberately so, the words carefully chosen not to describe action but to allow the reader into the minds and souls of people who have lived in circumstances of which the majority of us can hardly conceive. The plot, intriguing though it is, is really secondary to the introspection taken on by each of the accused murderer's parents; the most pressing question, that of choosing to support your child with whatever means you have at your disposal (financial, spiritual, intellectual, emotional)in the face of your indecision as to whether or not you believe his version of events (or if any version of events would be acceptable). If your child murdered someone else, how would you feel? What would you do? Is the social legacy of apartheid going to color your beliefs; what happens when you are "open-minded" (no one ever really is), and your child commits a race crime? Do you use the race card to exonerate him, even when you are repulsed by his choice and behavior? And while the stress of saving your child from what he or she deserves in the course of law taps all of your inner resources, what happens to your marriage, your career, your friendships, your faith?
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 9, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Gordimer is an excellent writer, but The House Gun finds her far from the top of her game. The plot of the story is certainly intriguing: in post-apartheid South Africa, a man is accused of murdering his lover; his affluent, supposedly liberal parents hire a black attorney to represent him, despite the fact that the parents have never interacted with a black person in their lives. Gordimer has a great deal to say here about the legacy of apartheid, its violence, and about liberal culture, but getting to these messages is arduous. Even by literary standards, the text is dry, devoid of humor and even emotion to the point of being painful, and Gordimer does little to help her cause by adopting such a difficult style, weighting down the text with unpunctuated dialogue and terse prose. Unlike other "challenging" works (read: Faulkner, Joyce, early Gordimer, etc.) that ultimately reward readers for their efforts, The House Gun has a promising start that languishes up to an unsatisfying ending. The reviewer who stated that this is not a work for "best seller" readers is certainly on the mark, but I would go as far as to say that this isn't really much of a book for those of us with high brow tastes. Gordimer has written a number of outstanding books (My Son's Story, Burger's Daughter, and Jump come to mind), but The House Gun falls short of Gordimer's standards. If you love Gordimer, you'll probably read this book anyway, but her new readers (and I highly recommend reading her) should start elsewhere.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 3, 1999
Format: Paperback
If you are a "best seller" reader, this book is not for you, and definitely not for the casual reading one does at the gym. The book has a style that captures the art of a good literary piece, perhaps similar to Faulkner. It makes the reader work a little bit. Gordimer's style also lends itself to the incredible understanding of the human psyche of the characters, which is, in my opinion, the strength of the book.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 30, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I read about this in Publisher's Weekly, so I thought I'd check it out. I took it to the gym, so it was the only thing I had to read while on my stationary cycle. I still couldn't read it. The dispassionate writing style made it seem like I was looking at the characters through dirty water.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 18, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This book came as a big disappointment especially as I was so looking forward to reading it. The plot is incredibly weak, the characters shallow and their reactions and emotions unbelievable. The pace is slow and half the time one isn't sure exactly what is going on. She uses a unique style of writing dialogue so that one isn't always sure who is speaking. The saving grace is that in some parts the style is good and there are some paragraphs which are quite well written and readable. For the rest, a boring and definitley not recommended read. Pity ...
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 1, 1999
Format: Paperback
As a South African acquaintance said to me... "I've never been able to finish a Gordimer book". I decided I would finish this book, and it is well written if in an archingly intellectual manner. But its tough going...too detached, and ultimately not enough to keep you wanting to go back. I chose it at random since I had heard so much about Nadine Gordimer, but had never read any of her work. Suggest finding another one.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Lori MacKenzie on May 16, 2000
Format: Paperback
I'm an avid reader and I found this book to be far too much work to read. The writing style is punishing - some combination of observation/conversation/emotion that is all strung together inside of paragraphs that require the reader to re-read them in order to follow the meaning. Yes, there is an interesting plot here but it is largely overshadowed by the author's writing style. As the parents try to cope with the knowledge that their son has committed a murder they stumble along wrapped in cotton wool. I found myself wanting to shake some sense of reality into them - force them into some reaction - which further increased my frustration with this book.
If you're still interested in reading The House Gun - I'd suggest a visit to the library.
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