[quote]In this world, you can get anybody to do anything if you just keep at it. People will come round to any idea, even an idea they hate, if you persist. Persist. Don’t ever give up.[/quote]
The Beautiful Screaming of Pigs (1991) has the undertones of brilliance that becomes prominent in Damon Galgut’s later works – the poignant, serious notes and the underlying love affair with South Africa and men, but fails to go somewhere.
Where Booker-shortlisted The Good Doctor (2003) and In A Strange Room (2010), leave you feeling lost for words in the best possible way, The Beautiful Screaming of Pigs aims for an anticlimactic finish but falls flat, in the wrong way.
However, despite this, Galgut remains true to his style, rewarding his readers with some tender observations on humanity and complex portrays of human interaction: “I wondered then whether people don’t need their secrets. Lives are meant to be separate and apart; when the borders break and we overflow into one another, it only leads to trouble and sadness.”
The story follows Patrick Winter; recently discharged from the army, now travelling with his mother to meet her new lover. Though the backdrop of the plot is one of South African politics and history, the book is rich with questions of masculinity.
Galgut’s characterisation of Patrick portrays him as a meek, self-pitying person, who continually compares himself to the hunter archetype man. There is a particularly prominent cast of the stereotypically masculine in several of the sideline characters; Patrick’s father and deceased brother, the commander of the army as well as Godfrey (the mother’s lover).
All of them are ‘men’s men’ in every sense of the word – rugby, hunting, their treatment of women, and juxtaposed against the sensitive Patrick, who would rather spend time talking with his mother… Galgut’s message is either a little clichéd or is lost completely.
The strange relationships of the book unfold with Patrick and his mother, his mother and Godfrey and Godfrey and Patrick.
At one point, Godfrey turns to Patrick and says “You’re in love with your mother,” to which Patrick rebuts, “So are you,” but ironically, we see that it is Patrick who is falling for Godfrey. Though to Galgut’s credit, all these potentially trivial relationships are made rich with his understated style and striking simplicity.
As always, Galgut tries to capture the entanglements of human relationships and the complexities and nonsensical nature of people – something that his later novels perfect, but that Beautiful Screaming of Pigs was perhaps just the stepping stone for.