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The Conservationist Paperback – 23 Feb 1978

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New edition edition (23 Feb. 1978)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140047166
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140047165
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,499,873 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"A triumph of stle ... It is not often that lyrical intelligence and political pupose are combined in so effective a way." --Paul Theroux"Gordimer has written what must be considered her masterpiece. The beauty and largeness of this land she loves is drawn with a breadth and scope that is breathtaking." --St. Louis Post-Dispatch"This is a novel of enormous power." --The New Statesman

About the Author

Nadine Gordimer is the author of eleven previous novels, as well as collections of stories and essays. She has received many awards, including the Booker Prize (for The Conservationist in 1974) and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1991. She lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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Customer Reviews

2.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By BookWorm TOP 500 REVIEWER on 7 Sept. 2008
Format: Paperback
Despite having won the Booker Prize, and Gordimer herself being a Nobel literature laureate, I found 'The Conservationist' rather disappointing. It's not terrible, but it's unexciting and often quite hard work to read. It does improve as it goes along and you become more familiar with the style, but it was one of those books I had to make a conscious effort to pick up and read.

The story is set in South Africa during the seventies, and focuses on a rich white businessman who owns a farm as a weekend hobby. Other characters are the farm workers, the local shopkeepers, and the son of the businessman. I found it hard to get to know or really empathise with any of the characters. The prose from Mehring's point of view frequently refers to his former mistress, a liberal humanist, and his arguments with her. There are some interesting points in there but I found the intrusion of flashbacks into the past and sudden changes into second person narration irritating and confusing.

This is a story that may have more resonance for those who lived in or visited South Africa during the seventies. For those who haven't, this book doesn't bring the setting or era alive enough to draw the reader in.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Jorgensen on 19 Aug. 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
What hard work, tedious and unrewarding, to get through this novel. It is the worst I've read in years. The story is really simple and utterly unoriginal, it's hardly a story at all, more like silly social realism of the seventies. But the worst thing about it is the style. Characters are not really introduced and settings neither. The reader pops in and out of heads of people but as they aren't really grounded in a figure the thoughts and shallow oberservations we read come across as echoes of thoughts. Real observations are very few indeed. Assumption on the other hand are quite plentifull.
But listen to this one: an Indian family plays a minor role and suddenly we zoom in on them and see the wife standing in a room.
" What did she think, standing looking out into the yard or across the burned veld - you could grow bananas, it would be warm and steamy and green, like the coast?"
And goodbye wife, not to be heard of again. What do we care what she might think if it isn't put into perspective of something, anything, show some respect for the trees Gordimer!
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Format: Paperback
The opening is really good, very evocative of time and place. The appeal lies in the unique character of the life it describes - the situation in apartheid South Africa, early 1970s, where a wealthy white businessman runs a farm as a kind of hobby and a place to escape to at the weekends. Although the story revolves around a dead body found on the farm, this is anything but a thriller - slow-moving, unconcerned really with the dead man, who was black and therefore of little interest to the white farmer or the police.
But what the story lacks in entertainment value is made up for by interest value, the beautifully descriptive passages of a world most of us would never otherwise know anything about, the way the poor Africans live, the relationships between them and the white landowners, and also the Indian shopkeepers.

But although the novel won the Booker Prize (in 1974), it is not without flaws (actually it's one of the best Booker winners I've read, but that's not saying much). The biggest problem is a lack of plot, action or any kind of suspense. It rambles on and eventually the good writing and the interesting descriptions of time and place are not enough.
Another issue is that, although it starts off as a third-person present-tense narrative, things become confusing further into the story when the author sometimes switches to first-person and/or past-tense, seemingly at random, a situation made worse by the fact that dialogue, which she indicates by the long dash (European style) rather than quote marks, is often jumbled up and not clearly attributed.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Martin Grundy on 16 Aug. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
How to Win the Man Booker Prize:
1. Choose a subject with some serious human rights implications or moral dilemmas.
2. Arbitrarily switch between narrating in the present tense and the past tense.
3. Use commonplace words but give then a different meaning that only emerges as the book progresses.
4. Use a previously unknown punctuation convention, for example hyphens instead of quotation marks to indicate speech.
5. Use flashback and flash forward as frequently as is feasible.
6. Use personal pronouns instead of characters' names to heighten the mystery.
7. Begin or end each section with a quote from an obscure source, preferably printed in italics.
8. Run sections of dialogue together without indicating who is speaking so that the reader can have the fun of trying to work it out.
9. Never explain anything, because by the end of the novel every significant event will have been absorbed by the reader through osmosis.
10. Be brief, remember that two short novels will sell for twice as much as one long one.
11. Do not make any of the characters likable.
12. Drift in and out of what is actually happening and what is running through the protagonists' minds without differentiation.
13. Do not tell a story as such but rather reveal a related set of circumstances by degrees.
14. Make sure that every twentieth "sentence" has no verb or is otherwise grammatically incorrect.

If this style of writing appeals to you then you will enjoy Nadine Gordimer's "The Conservationist". If, on the other hand, like me you find it pretentious and irritating, I suggest you give it a wide berth.
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