July’s People was our latest book group choice. Unfortunately I was unable to make the discussion, which is a shame as I think this is a book which benefits from being discussed.
July’s People is set in South Africa. The book follows the Smales, a white couple and their three children, as they are rescued from the violence taking place in their city. Their servant, July, takes the family back to his native village where they have to learn to cope in a world very different to the one they have left. The small rural community uses little money, finding everything they need in the forest. The Smales have to adjust to the reversal of power, relying on the black community to both protect and provide for them. The book gives a fascinating insight into the difference between the black and white communities of South Africa and the delicate relationship between the two.
Unfortunately July’s People wasn’t an easy read. The prose was confusing and this meant that I often has to re-read entire sections in order to work out what was happening. There were no speech marks so it was difficult to tell who was speaking – sometimes the speaker even switched mid-line. This meant that I found myself concentrating on the words rather than what was happening. The effort it took to understand each page meant that any emotion that might have been present was removed. I felt very detached from all the characters and because I often didn’t know who was talking they lacked a unique voice, all seeming to merge into one. I found myself having to invent their feelings based on the situation, but this felt fake as I don’t really know how things must have been for them.
The premise for this book is fantastic, but the complexity of the prose ruined it for me.
Recommended to anyone who enjoys studying books rather than reading them.
The other members of the book group seemed to enjoy this book much more than me and they also found out more about the background of this book. I recommend you read their insightful reviews:
Have you read anything by Nadine Gordimer?
Are all her books difficult to understand?