Virginia Woolf said, speaking from the perspective of the writer, that there’s no such thing, objectively, as a good or a bad novel, there’s just the novel you wanted to write. From the perspective of the reader, equally, there’s no such thing (objectively again) as a good or a bad novel – just the novel that moves you, that seems really felt and imagined by the author, lively and alive. This probably means that the more idiosyncratic the novel the better, because any writer straining to conform to the precepts of a genre, or the fashions of an age, may well end up suppressing his or her real self, deferring to other people’s maxims and theories and generally becoming a terrible phoney.
So I confess that I began Gillian Slovo’s latest novel with a sinking heart. Naturally Slovo has all sorts of plaudits to her name: her novel Red Dust (2000), about the South African Truth and Reconciliation process, was made into a film directed by the gilded Tom Hooper; Ice Road