Margaret von Klemperer
2 minute read
4 Jun 2008

Intriguing questions

Margaret von Klemperer

Book of the Week: The Imposter by Damon Galgut, published by Penguin

The intriguing question for the reader at the end of this novel is: who is the impostor of the title? There are several candidates, for everyone is involved in some kind of deception, a pretence that they or what they are doing is something other than the literal truth.

The central character is Adam, for whom things have gone wrong in the big city, and who heads off to his brother’s run-down house in a Karoo dorpie to recover his equilibrium and perhaps re-establish his credentials as a poet after the loss of his job and house. He is, at any rate at this stage of his life, someone to whom things happen rather than an instigator — an instrument to be played on rather than a player. But he is to become a catalyst in the lives of others, sometimes disastrously.

When he arrives at his new home, Adam just broods. He does little to improve the house, although that was part of the deal when he took it over. It is a glaring contrast to that of Blom, his obsessively neat and tidy neighbour. Then one day he has a chance encounter with Canning, a man who claims to have been at school with Adam and who seems to regard him as some kind of hero. Adam cannot dredge Canning up out of his memory, but allows himself to be drawn into Canning’s life and schemes — which seem to stem, in something that recurs in Galgut’s writing, from an obsession with his father. Canning wants revenge, even though his father is dead. Adam is indifferent to Canning’s ideas, but is much more interested in his surprising wife, Baby.

Galgut has cleverly combined a thriller plot with a consideration of the loss of innocence — all the characters have lost or are in the process of losing theirs. It makes for a compelling book. On the one hand, it is a page-turner as you long to know what is going to happen. On the other, you are left pondering the question at the beginning of this review. Is it Adam, or Blom, or Canning, or Baby? Or all of the above? Decide for yourself.

Margaret von Klemperer

• The Impostor is on the 2008 Exclusive Books Homebru list.