Book Review || The House Gun by Nadine Gordimer

I haven't read many novels written by South Africans, even though I'm a prolific reader. But I have taken to reading such novels after a course in African literature that I took a couple of years ago.

South Africa has a unique history, what with its background of oppression and violence, and I feel as though it cannot break free from this past, a past that destroyed many lives, and still continues to do so today.

Though The House Gun is set in the early days of South Africa's democracy, the main themes are still valid in today's Rainbow Nation, for we are still at the mercy of relentless violence and criminality. This week alone saw over a hundred people arrested for looting and public violence in only one area of the country.

It is under this premise of everyday violence that 'The House Gun' takes its tenet: a handgun is purchased and kept in a communal home for the use of anyone who might need it to protect themselves and their belongings from a break-in or other violent act. But the gun is used instead in a murder, the motive of which is slowly uncovered (or not) throughout the novel.

The Lindgards' lives are thrown into chaos when their son, Duncan, is accused of murder. With the accusation and his subsequent arrest - and lack of remorse - they call into question their own parenting skills, their own supposedly liberal lives and upbringing of their son, and also the state of the country they are living in.

The Constitutional Court is still deliberating on whether or not the State can murder murderers, and Harald and Claudia hope against hope that their son will not have to face the death penalty. But Gordimer demands - albeit indirectly - that we compare the senseless and unplanned death of one man in a fit of emotional overwhelm with the mass killings undertaken during the apartheid regime with the sole purpose of instilling fear and control.

Meanwhile, the concept of forgiveness is also broached: can Duncan's parents forgive him? Can the partner of the man he killed offer forgiveness? Does a verdict and sentence in court start the process for forgiveness? Can everything be forgiven? Can South Africa's tumultuous, violent past be forgiven, by the individuals who were forever affected or by the nation?

'The House Gun' forces us to ask these questions, take a look at our own histories and beliefs, and consider how we feel in the greater scheme of South Africa.


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