Review: Jonathan Amid
In 2007, The Beggars Signwriters signaled Louis Greenberg as a talented, sensitive author capable of telling moving, poignant stories. Greenberg is also one half of the horror-writing duo S.L Grey, writing with Sarah Lotz. Dark Windows is his latest offering, gripping and original, and it will arguably confound and challenge many readers, while offering a resolutely different kind of speculative, apocalyptic fiction.
As South Africans, our obsession with impending doom and peril is associated either with crime or racial discord. Somewhere on the horizon, for many, lies the day where we will meet our end at the hand of the threatening other. Set not in the future but in the present day, after the Mbeki administration, Greenberg sets up a superbly realised conceit: the country is run by the Gaia Peace Party. And Gaia Peace is all about positive energy; a remarkable turnaround in social welfare, a staggering reduction in the consumption of meat, and a 90 percent reduction in crime, with the virtual absence of proper security and alarm systems, not to mention the belief by the woman in charge, senior minister Meg Hewitt, that a game-changing supernatural event, The Arrival, is to usher in the best of what is yet to come. Yet dissent is growing. Amid all the light and seeming positivity is the feasible undertow of mind-control, possibly how the incumbents managed to come to power in the first place, though few are willing to offer this insight in public.
Greenberg constructs the novel’s architecture, and I use this word because of Greenberg’s dexterity in shaping a text which is thoroughly unpredictable, character-driven, quietly clever and illuminating through its spare, exacting prose, around three main figures: the haunted Jay, a man who receives hot-stone therapy as punishment for an earlier transgression, and whose need for redemption and self-examination follow him around wherever he must perform secretive jobs for the state; Beth, the troubled and uncertain married woman with whom he has a steamy affair; and the bureaucrat Lang, whose own story and personal history add a further layer of intrigue to the novel.
Deliberately, then, I leave the title for last, since it speaks directly to the driver of the novel’s plot, but also to the kind of character revealed by the novel. For Project Dark Windows, Jay must paint black the windows of five specifically chosen sites, united by a death on the premises. As further details of the deaths emerge, and while Jay is in the process of painting these windows each on a different day, the veracity and true nature of the Arrival comes into question. As the tension mounts, considerably so, Greenberg interrogates with poise and acid clarity notions of guilt, redemption, the collective unconscious, the nature of belief, the meaning of death and the need to be loved. This novel, by its striking end, has turned the notion of certainty on its head, opening further windows for reflection.
- This review first appeared in the Cape Times in 2014