BY GARETH LANGDON
Baxter Zevcenko, the hero of Charlie Human’s debut novel Apocalypse Now Now, is a psychologically-troubled teenager immersed in the fantastic and terrifying underground world of “creature porn” — pornography starring monstrous abominations and creatures of popular imagination. After his girlfriend, Esmé, goes missing, Baxter connects with Jackie Ronin, a sharp-witted bounty hunter who helps him reunite with his lost love. He finds himself increasingly involved in a magical world, that is typically hidden and replete with bat-winged men, electrifying elementals and shaman-like acolytes. But Baxter himself is not unexceptional, and as a “Siener” (a term derived from Afrikaans folklore) he is able to adeptly engage with the seedy supernatural.
In this apocalyptic offering, Human ambitiously sketches a South African landscape teetering on the edge of eternal damnation. His description of an undercurrent of filth that pervades the back alleys and dark streets of Cape Town is striking, and is made all the more so through the use of the paranormal. However, Human’s project is too often overreaching — perhaps the result of trying to incorporate such a wide range of pop-cultural signifiers — and his whimsical approach to excess is not always endearing. His style maybe at times seem simplistic but this feels appropriate in light of the novel’s teenage narrator and, though heavy with niche similes, the prose has its moments of inspiration.
Perhaps stemming from an engagement with the world of video games and television, Human’s work emerges as an uncontrolled outing in the world of madness and the mad. Placed before the backdrop of Cape Town, the novel playfully pokes at the credibility of old stereotypes, to differing degrees of success but always aware of its own frivolity. Apocalypse Now Now is at the very least an intriguing read and an exciting new venture for South African literature and its growing young readership.
Apocalypse Now Now is published by Umuzi, R190.