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Heretic: a novel PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 30 June 2013 18:37

By Shabbir Banoobhai
Review by Alan Muller

In a coffee shop in modern-day Cape Town, a dark shadow is encroaching on the lives of Tito and Lara, who are struggling to stay in love – while Jacob listens to an old man narrating a strange story. Whose story is it really? And what is its purpose? To prevent a murder reminiscent of one committed centuries ago?

Heretic is the debut novel of Durban born and prize winning poet, Shabbir Banoobhai. Described by Ivan Vladislavi? as “supple, unusual, and intriguing”, the novel is narrated by seven recurrent characters, each with their own emotional encumbrances. Further complicating this narratorial septet are the authors’ own metafictional ruminations on the processes of writing and storytelling. The novel essentially narrates two love stories that, while taking place at different times, run parallel to each to each other. In discussion with, Banoobhai advised that “the second story can almost be considered a continuation of the first. The first story ends with a murder while the second ends with the possibility that another murder is about to be committed, although this conclusion remains conjecture”. The first story consists of sections narrated by Sarah, Adam and David while the second is told from the perspectives of Lara, Tito and Jacob. The story of Sarah, Adam and David takes place “centuries ago” while that of Lara, Tito and Jacob unfolds in modern-day Cape Town.

Banoobhai has managed to strike a fine balance between prose and poetry that has given rise to a text that is both ethereal and thought-provoking while remaining readable and accessible. Poet, Rustum Kozain has described the novel as “transcendent, ethereal, rarefied poetics”. An example of this ethereal poetics can be found in Sarah’s dream at the outset of the novel:
She is alone on a desolate plane. The sun is setting. A slight chill is beginning to develop. She shivers. Not just from the cold, but from fear. The night closes around her. Clouds gather in the sky. A light rain begins to fall. Becoming gradually accustomed to the changing light, her fear recedes. As if in a trance, she starts to turn, at first languidly, then faster and faster […] her dance slowly draws to an end; so slowly that it seems she is suspended between two worlds, neither part of one nor the other, before she falls to the ground, becoming one with the earth.

The novel raises questions of what it means to love, and how both love and the lack thereof misconstrued as love can have similar – and, in this case, disastrous – consequences. It also suggests that innate goodness or good intentions do not necessarily guarantee good results. Heretic is an unusual novel that is sure to push a reader to think and read in unexpected ways. Shabbir Banoobhai’s most recent publications include A mountain is an upside down valley (2008), Lyrics in Paradise (2009) and Dark Light – the spirit’s secret (2009).