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Up Against the Night Hardcover – November 17, 2015
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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“One of the finest novelists currently at work.” ―The Guardian
“Justin Cartwright is a senior member of a masterful generation of English novelists that includes Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie and Kazuo Ishiguro.” ―The Los Angeles Times
“Anybody who wonders whether novelists can keep up with an accelerating world should read Justin Cartwright. [He] consistently captures the zeitgeist.” ―The Independent
“[A] remarkable novel . . . Cartwright has created a work that deftly locates the parallels between the politics of the 12th century and those of the 21st but that is ultimately more about the frailties and foibles of the human heart.” ―Library Journal on LION HEART
About the Author
Justin Cartwright's novels include In Every Face I Meet, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize; Leading the Cheers, winner of the Whitbread Novel Award; White Lightning, shortlisted for the Whitbread; The Promise of Happiness, winner of the Hawthornden Prize; Other People's Money, named Spear's Book Award Novel of the Year and included in Kirkus Reviews' Top 25 Best of Fiction; and, most recently, Lion Heart. Cartwright was born in South Africa and now lives in London.
Top customer reviews
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I’m just a little more familiar with South African politics than I am of Justin Cartwright. This is my first by him, although I’ve read other novels concerning the post-apartheid plight. There’s much more nuance than just the headlines say, such as how it affects people individually. Cartwright takes the era down to a personal level, the apartheid and post-apartheid periods never far below the surface of implication. He achieves a portrait of one family’s love, troubles, dysfunction, and loyalties, and executes the theme of history with identity and the sense of home.
“Now I feel an urge to go home, even if the home I have in mind is mostly imagined.”
Wealthy but generous McAllister is from Cape Town, but has lived much of his life in London. He has a home in Notting Hill, the New Forest, and a beach house in Cape Town. It’s there at the beach house that he feels uplifted, wild, and elemental, joined with nature. His lovely Swedish girlfriend, Nellie, is a lover of the natural world. “After all, the Vikings were the last pagans of Europe.” He also feels a calm stillness in Cape Town. His house, inspired by Martha’s Vineyard, is named Menemsha. Cartwright never lacks for elegant metaphors to describe the surrounding land and sea.
It opens on an identity with history, as the main character, Frank McAllister, is a descendent of the Boer Piet Retief, who was massacred, along with his followers (and women and children), by the Zulu king Dingane, in 1838. (Cartwright is also a descendant of Retief, so there’s a certain biographical significance). Afrikaners have lionized Retief, but Frank thinks that there’s some unspoken rot at Retief’s core. He’s vexed by these thoughts. And even in the modern South Africa, there is the “violence and desperation that are never far away.”
There isn’t much plot in the book, but as I was reading, I felt the tautness in Cartwright’s lean, sinuous, aphoristic prose, and the sense of a danger lurking underneath the family trek. McAllister, along with Nellie and her teenage son, Bertil, go down to the beach house and await the arrival of Frank’s daughter, Lucinda, fresh out of rehab in California. Frank is plagued by her fragility, and hopes she is fully drug-free now; he blames her problems on his messy divorce with his insufferable, self-centered ex-wife, Georgina. During this meditative, reflective story, memories of Georgina occasionally intrude on his tranquility. When Lucinda does arrive, she comes with a surprise guest--an African-American two-and-a-half-year-old, Isaac, the son of a recent boyfriend who is on a music tour.
“He has a quality of warmth I have never before encountered in a very small child, a precocious empathy.” Isaac, (which means laughter) soon enchants everyone. Frank is immediately captivated by Isaac’s innocence and affection, and the baby calls Frank “Grandpa” right from the start.
Frank’s serenity is interrupted periodically by phone calls from his cousin, Jaco, a racist, gun-loving manipulator who once achieved his fifteen minutes of fame when he was attacked by a shark. His head camera filmed his eventual subdual of the shark, and it went viral on You Tube, leading to appearances as a guest speaker. However, he is now calling to ask for a large sum of money that he owes the Scientologists in California, saying that they are holding him captive and won’t release him without the money he owes. Jaco symbolizes that element of danger invading the idyll, and the chapters of his nature are fascinating, recalling the bloodshed of the past. The Jaco suspense builds alternately with Frank’s repose with family--the beauty of Table Mountain, the ocean, and the surrounding forest.
I find myself, several days after reading this novel, appreciating it even more. The story is subtle, sublime, with a striking denouement. The threads of the story may not initially suggest much of a unifying theme, or may come across as disparate, but, after contemplation, I recognize its transcendence. The allusions to myth, medieval history, poetry, Shakespeare, and the search for home and identity penetrate this landscape of the mind, body, and environment.
Frank seeks to understand his humanity by connecting the past with the present, history with its value and essence. His effusive words of love to Nellie may come close to syrupy and unreal at times, but I give it a pass, because it is fitting that Frank McAllister is something of the dreamer himself, an idealist.
“…I have understood that love is not an end in itself, but a process of learning to know another fully…Much of what I know has come from books. I have relied heavily on books in order to understand the world.”
In UP AGAINST THE NIGHT, Frank shapes his imagination and idealism with reality; he conveys the essence of being human.
Most recent customer reviews
It's a simple story but written with a slightly eerie, even sometimes detached voice which gently...Read more