Andre Brink's The Rights of Desire
concerns a retired librarian's infatuation with his young lodger. Ruben Olivier, as the ageing lecher, is resolutely unsympathetic. He pathetically spends weeks sifting through the dust in his basement because the beloved's navel ring has fallen through a crack in the floorboards. When Tessa, the lodger brings home a black man, Zolani, he nearly has a heart attack, musing after he has recovered his breath: "It was unworthy and I knew it. Yet how could I not wonder about it?--Zolani is welcomed into her bed but I am still denied ... her exasperating and prodigal beauty, distributed like alms among the poor. Only I remained denied." His relationship to literature and music is similarly self-aggrandizing and precious: "I went to Spain with Don Quixote--I still go every year in the summer--and to St Petersburg with Dostoevsky every winter. In between, I go to Paris with Balzac, or with Zola if I feel up to it." It is as difficult to like Tessa, who, in addition to being a little bit slutty and nutty is also a compulsive liar.
Cluttered around their doomed but mutually sustaining love affair is the atrocious exhibition of the white post-apartheid narration of the suburbs. Olivier's best friend is brutally murdered and failing to recognise the crumpled pile of rags on the side of the road Olivier drives by. Tessa narrowly escapes being gang raped in the Newlands forest. The novel equivocates between claiming that all this sex and violence is a function of contemporary social collapse or may simply be an expression of the timeless beauty and violence of Cape Town. Woven into the story of Ruben and Tessa is the story of Antje of Bengal, a 17th-century slave girl, whose ghost haunts the house and the story of Magrieta, Olivier's housekeeper, who is forced to flee her home after an episode of township violence. At times over-ripe, this novel is at it most compelling in its characterisation of this pair. --Neville Hoad
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"The Rights of Desire
is a book rooted in a place and a time where collective reality is taking a battering and where people are having to rely on themselves to make sense of what is coming into shape. Out of chaos always comes interesting art, and Brink is an excellent weather vane" (Sunday Express
"A story that keeps one guessing until the end... An intelligent and gripping novel" (Literary Review
"Achingly beautiful and moving... This is a splendid novel by a master of the craft" (Scotsman