Up Against the Night by Justin Cartwright


Frank McAllister is wealthy and lives in the UK. He has lived there for thirty years and has houses in Nottinghill, New Forest and Cape Town. He feels increasingly alienated and hankers for his South African heritage, and the novel opens with him planning a trip to Cape Town with his lover Nellie. Frank is descended from Piet Retief (as is Justin Cartwright) and his murder by Dingaan and subsequent avenge by the Boers in the Battle of Blood River is explored. Frank’s Afrikaner cousin, Jaco, almost famous on YouTube for nearly being eaten by a shark, threatens to disturb his more measured existence. Themes of heritage and what it means, and the presumptions made by strangers in a foreign land are central to the story. Cartwright writes beautifully, and his keen observation of character and profound insights are balanced by a sense of irony, and even comic absurdity.

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‘History …is seldom able to convey the essence of being human’ Frank McAllister has become wealthy in England, where he has lived for thirty years. He has a house in Notting Hill, a house in the New Forest, and a house near Cape Town. But more and more he feels alienated in England. As the book opens, he is preparing to go to South Africa with his lover, Nellie. He is also waiting anxiously for his daughter, Lucinda, to arrive from California, where she has been in rehab. Frank is a descendant of the Boer leader, Piet Retief, who was murdered by the Zulu king Dingane, along with all his followers, in 1838. He has been an icon of Afrikaners ever since. Frank’s Afrikaner cousin, Jaco, has become moderately famous on YouTube for having faced down a huge white shark. He is now in America, where he has joined the Scientologists. His chaotic and violent life spills over on to Frank. He is drawn into a world of violence and delusion that is to threaten the family. Justin Cartwright possesses that rarest of novelist’s skills – the ability to create fiction which is intensely serious but which also vividly encompasses the absurdity and comedy of life. Up Against the Night is a subtle, brilliant novel about South Africa, its beautiful, superbly evoked landscape, its violent past and its uncertain present. Justin Cartwright is a descendant of Piet Retief.


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