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on 16 August 2014
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.

There is very little story, but what there is takes place in South Africa in the 1950's and concerns rich white people living alongside poor black people. The best parts are where the author tells a short story for a page or two. Unfortunately, these are connected by rambling passages of barely comprehensible stream of consciousness text from the main character's brain. It was so difficult to read that I found myself going back to see if I had misread something or accidentally turned over two pages at once.

I almost gave up on several occasions but considered that it would be unfair to criticise a book that I had not finished. I am at a loss to explain how this book can hove won a prestigious literary prize. To me there is a suggestion of the emperor's new clothes.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 September 2008
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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on 20 December 2014
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. Quite often I was unsure who was supposed to be speaking, or indeed if anyone was speaking at all, or if they were just the thoughts of the main character, Mehring, the white farmer from whose veiwpoint, for the most part, we see things through.
But then we start seeing things from the point-of-view of other characters too, and this overall confusion, combined with the lack of real story, begins to outweigh the good points to the writing, so that I only continued reading because I'd already got that far and wanted to see it out. The ending doesn't amount to much, either, so overall I don't rate the novel very highly.
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on 5 October 2015
The Conservationist is the story of Mehring, a successful white South African businessman who buys a hobby farm. Through the vehicle of the farm we see South Africa’s racial interactions played out.

Gordimer won the Nobel prize for literature, the Booker, and a raft of other awards including fifteen honorary degrees and numerous national prizes. The Conservationist is seen as an important part of her work. And yet, I have to confess that I have a feeling that this resembles the story of the King’s clothes in many ways. The style is fractured; we live far too much in Mehring’s disjointed and unattractive mind; the story is laden with overworked metaphor: Mehring suffers increasing isolation – a metaphor for South Africa under sanctions; a dead black body is discovered on his farm at the opening of the book and treated by the authorities with disinterest – a metaphor both for the imbedded racism and a sort of Hamlet style rottenness which pervades the country; an interaction with a prostitute – which symbolises black exploitation and the corrupting influence of white South Africa; an uncomfortable predilection for teenage girls – symbolising both perversion and a high degree of misogyny. I could go on.

There is a minimal plot, and stretching Mehring’s character to encompass all these metaphors makes him a bit unreal.

The writing style is overladen, difficult to read, and, frankly, boring. In the end you are left with the feeling that it is a book that just tries too hard.
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on 19 August 2009
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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on 19 January 2015
This is a somewhat disconcerting book. Published in 1974 and set in Apartheid era South Africa, Gordimer's book has a modernist, almost impressionistic quality to the telling of a simple tale of life and death across the racial and economic divide. It is unsettling in style and content, and yet has moments of poetic beauty. The descriptions of place are more satisfactory than the portrayals of people, and yet this also sort of fits with the idea that nobody really knows how someone else lives or thinks. The main protagonist is not easily likeable, and yet somehow you want him to find a way of making a difference.

Nadine Gordimer won the Booker Prize in 1974 with The Conservationist, and later was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. She is clearly a fine writer, but I would be surprised if this was her finest work.
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on 25 July 2015
NOT an easy read but gives real insight into the relations of the different cultural groupings of apartheid S. Africa, and a sometimes startling view of the main character, a very human mix of the good, the bad and the ugly, giving a strong sense of his own inner turmoil despite his affluence and social acceptance as a successful businessman,
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on 21 September 2008
Form and style are matched to content in this expertly crafted novel by Gordimer. 'The Conservationist' was my introduction to Gordimer's writing and I wasn't disappointed. Her Modernist style, with its rapid shifts of narrative viewpoints, stream of consciousness and insertion of flashbacks is exactly suited to the tragedy that is Mehring's life and times - capturing his increasing ennui, uncertainty and his inability to fit. It's not difficult to understand why they gave her the Nobel.
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on 30 June 2016
Gordimer's a great writer, but... well at times writing from a male perspective isn't her strength.
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on 11 September 2015
I lived in South Africa and her descriptions brought me right back.
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