Metaphor as Illness

Sophie Harrison reviews Get a Life by Nadine Gordimer, in the New York Times Book Review:

Gord450Nadine Gordimer has often written about sickness, but it has been the sickness of a society, South Africa, under and after apartheid. In this, her 14th novel, she focuses instead on a single unwell individual. Paul Bannerman, a 35-year-old white ecologist in an unnamed city in South Africa, has just started treatment for cancer of the thyroid gland. The therapy sounds exotic to Paul’s ears: following surgery, he must take radioactive iodine, which will accumulate in the remnants of his thyroid and, if he’s lucky, destroy any residual tumor. During the treatment he will himself become radioactive for “about 16 days,” as will anything he touches, apparently. His parents have offered to let Paul live with them during this time, to reduce his young family’s exposure to hazard. So Paul has left his wife, Berenice, an advertising copywriter, and the couple’s 3-year-old son, and returned to his childhood home in the comfortable suburbs for a period of self-imposed quarantine. In response to his arrival the household has adopted a new regime that reads like an ironic gloss on the country’s inequitable past. Paul’s belongings are segregated, his laundry and cutlery kept apart, his meals served on paper plates, and his visitors rationed and forbidden to touch him – his small son must stand on the other side of an iron-barred garden gate in order to talk to his father.

More here.