BY TARAH CHILDES
Range Rovers and Louboutins, botox and braais, leafy suburbs and high walls; this is the backdrop against which Mark Winkler sets his debut novel, An Exceptionally Simple Theory (of Absolutely Everything). There is no bigger political picture here, no typical post-apartheid guilt waiting to come to the fore; just a nearly-forty-year-old man, trying to make sense of his unravelling, upper-middle class life. Hardly thrilling material, and yet there is a story to be told.
Chris Hayes, successful Capetonian architect and Bishopscourt resident is suffering from a proverbial midlife crisis. He feels increasingly estranged from his botox-addicted wife and his dyslexic teenage son and is facing growing pressure from his colleague to take on a black business partner in the hopes of scoring government tenders. He is also an amputee, having lost a leg in a car accident with a girlfriend years ago. However, it takes his adoptive mother’s death to propel him from his inertia, in search of answers he hopes will help quell his feelings of discontent and render his life into the neat equations he is so fond of, and from whence the contradictory, and not to mention lengthy, title originates.
Winkler, successful ad-man and current creative director of M&C Saatchi Abel South Africa, has discussed the predicament he faced when writing his somewhat unusual novel, that explores the relatively unchartered territory of the pathos of Cape Town’s upper-middle class. His first instinct was to try and work in over arching themes that grounded his story in post-apartheid South Africa. However, his attempts yielded flat and overdone ideas, until he concluded that “Chris should be perfectly entitled to tell his own story, and not be obliged to tell someone else’s, or to be impacted by someone more directly affected by South Africa’s past.”
The result is an honest story, unencumbered by obligatory content. Some may take issue with the domineeringly masculine voice, and the vilifying of the protagonist’s wife, her attempts at physical self-improvement treated with contempt to the point where she teeters on the verge of being unbelievable as a character. It is also unclear as to whether these are the thoughts of the protagonist alone; the male-centric tone having led the novel to be labelled as ‘dick-lit’ by some.
These criticisms aside, Winker’s debut novel is worth a read, its unremarkable content remarkable in its refusal to conform to ideas of what a South African novel should be.
An Exceptionally Simple Theory (of Absolutely Everything) is published by Kwela, R195