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White Lightning (Sceptre 21's) [Paperback]

Justin Cartwright
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
Price: 9.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

28 Dec 2006 Sceptre 21's

A motorcycle messenger goes into a small park in London to paint the words 'White Lightning' on the tank of his bike. This is the beginning of an extraordinary novel. It is told over the space of a few months, and in these few months one man's whole life - his failures, his successes, his longing for peace and fulfilment, his loves and his tragedies - are recounted. These memories include his film Suzi Crispin, Night Nurse, and - the darkest moment - the death of his son, which has haunted him.

He inherits a small amount of money and buys a rundown farm in South Africa, where he dreams of creating an Arcadia. On the farm is a captive baboon, Piet, who becomes startlingly involved in his new life. He also has a love affair with a local woman, and becomes hauntingly involved with an African family of squatters. All the while the narrator contemplates his own life back in England and so the novel is also a sharp commentary on what Englishness means.

This is a novel about the human enterprise. It is surprising, tender, funny and utterly original.

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White Lightning (Sceptre 21's) + Leading the Cheers + The Song Before it is Sung
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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Sceptre; Reprint edition (28 Dec 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0340936363
  • ISBN-13: 978-0340936368
  • Product Dimensions: 1.6 x 13 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 326,448 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

James Kronk, the protagnist of Justin Cartright's new novel White Lightning, is a man at the end of his tether. He has returned to South Africa, where he was born and grew up, because his mother is dying. Behind him, in London, he has left the shambles of his professional and personal life. His career as a film director, his supposed passage to redemption through art, has long since foundered and he is reduced to making promotional films for a doomed tourist resort in the Caribbean. His marriage was destroyed years ago by his womanising and by the overpowering, inescapable guilt he feels because, when his young son died, he was with one of his lovers, a body-double on a tacky soft-porn movie he was making. Back in South Africa, he sees a final chance of readjusting his life. As his mother makes her painful last journey, James buys a small farm-holding and tries to reinvent himself. He embarks on a new relationship, he involves himself with a desperately poor black family and he begins again to believe that he can make a film of worth and value.

In Cartwright’s funny, ironic and (ultimately) painfully sad novel, all of Kronk’s efforts come to nothing. The book’s title comes from Kronk’s teenage years as an athlete. Once, briefly, he was the fastest white runner of his age, nicknamed "White Lightning". As Cartwright’s complex and subtle narrative shows, he has been running all his life but has finally reached a point where he can run no more.--Nick Rennison --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


Brilliant, dazzling, unsettling; subtle and haunting; complex and multi-layered; deeply moving (Suzi Feay, Independent on Sunday )

A work of literary art, a mellow, beautifully constructed fable about the human hunger for goodness, it is by far the best thing Cartwright has done. (David Robson, Sunday Telegraph )

One of the finest novelists currently at work ... An altogether stunning achievement (D.J. Taylor, Guardian )

Hauntingly brilliant ... It is the best novel I have read this year. (Mick Brown, Daily Telegraph )

Apart from being a profoundly serious writer, Cartwright can also be an abrasively amusing one. Scarcely a page of this book fails to yield some pleasure. WHITE LIGHTNING is a book of substantial merit. (Francis King, Literary Review )

Beguiling. With this novel, Cartwright, a former Whitbread Award winner has put it all together - style, story, theme - to produce something exceptional. (Giles Newington, Irish Times )

Subtle and moving...Cartwright weaves the story of the man and the baboon with a magicians's delicacy...White Lightning underlines the intelligence and breadth of imagination that this former Whitbread Novel of the Year winner brings to every single paragraph of his work. ( Daily Mail )

Justin Cartwright's new novel may well be his finest - in an already accomplished oeuvre. Wry, achingly true and profound without being sententious, it's a moving and bleakly funny look at life's hellish demands and occasional moments of happiness. (William Boyd, Guardian Books of the Year)

Cartwright is a wise and perceptive novelist, keen to probe the dark places of the human heart and the complexities of post-colonial Africa, and possessed of a laudable ability to capture life as it rushes past at terrible speed. (James Smart, Sunday Herald )

This is a moving story of a man totally alone, and a powerful evocation of a country yet to come to terms with its tragedy-strewn destiny. (Ros Drinkwater, LiveWire )

Cartwright is a beautifully evocative writer; also one who makes you think... The rhythm is perfect, and almost every page offers such delights. (Allan Massie, Scotsman )

No amount of irony or humour can blunt the remorseless message contained in this tender, terrible tragedy. (Rosemary Goring, Glasgow Herald )

Cartwright's portrayal of the relationship between the man and the baboon is masterly. You know it is going to end in tears - WHITE LIGHTNING is, above all else, a book of echoes - but still the ending packs a punch of frustration and sadness. (Claudia FitzHerbert, Daily Telegraph )

Cartwright is a hugely skilled writer and his novels are always interesting. [He] can produce passages of uncommon beauty. (Michael Thompson-Noel, Financial Times )

Exquisitely moving. (Edwina Currie, New Statesman Books of the Year)

Cartwright is a brilliant observer and writes extremely well. [He] has produced an X-ray of modern man's soul. (Anthony Daniels, Evening Standard )

Cartwright manages to combine the thrilling readability of genre fiction with the unpredictability and strangeness of a literary master. It's astonishing that he still isn't spoken of in the same breath as Amis and McEwen: he ought to be. (Suzi Feay, Independent on Sunday )

This questioning, elegiac novel is much more than just another portrayal of mid-life crisis. It deserves a place beside those accounts of Africa, from Conrad to Naipaul, which encapsulate an outsider's sense of this world as both alluring and forbidding, and always only half-understood. (David Horspool, Times Literary Supplement )

This is fictional skill of the highest order. (Penelope Lively, Independent )

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredibly moving; an instant classic 1 April 2003
By A Customer
Here in Canada Justin Cartwright is just becoming known. This isa wonderful book, and confirms his status as one of the best writers in the world. It is the story of one man and his consideration of his life, his loves, his failures as he contemplates his mother's death in South Africa. This is post-apartheid fiction of the highest level. It;s also funny, humane and a great read.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars warm memories of the Cape 22 Aug 2003
This is a wonderful, well told, warm and desciptive story. JC has captured very well some of the hopeless aspects inherent in a post apartheid South Africa and frames them very well in the context of a South African returning from a previously 'important' life in London. JC also develops the central character enough to evoke an emotional response to acts in his life while the detail and observations are both believable and memorable. A superb story...
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Instant classic, deserved winner of prizes 24 July 2003
By A Customer
This is a truly great novel which repays the more serious reader. It is funny and humane and very moving. It is set in England and South Africa, and the narrator is a failed film director and father. The relationship between the narrator and the baboon is wonderfully done. Justin Cartwright's books are already becoming famous but this will have added to his growing reputation. READ THIS BOOK
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cartwright 15 Jun 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This novel has all the hallmarks of this mos readable author. He digs deep into the human psyche, attempting to
solve the dilemmas of creating a satisfactory relationship between men and woman, parent and child, human and animal.
He wrestles with the concept of giving up and starting again, knowing that his personal weaknesses will once again get
in the way of his attempt to have a meaningful and peaceful life.

The main character attempts to create a new life after his old one has failed him on most counts.
He works through constantly his interior thoughts on subjects that arise. These are personal and general. The reader has to be totally
involved in this to get the most out of the novel.

The writer is able to bring strikingly to life the imagery of place and characters. His descriptions of the contrasts of South African life are excellent. He deals with the waiting for his mother to die with a recognisable lack of apparent
emotion and with great poignancy for the reader.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars 15 Aug 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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