The House Gun
Although the author claims that this is not a detective novel, it has many of the appeals of a conventional “whodunit,” particularly in the search for a reason why Duncan Lingard killed his friend, Carl Jespersen.
Duncan’s parents spend much of the novel in recollection and introspection, trying to discover some clue from the past that could explain their son’s crime. Their agonies of self-doubt, the challenges to their hitherto safe beliefs, the shifts in perception that result from Duncan’s action form much of the material of the book. However, it is the black lawyer, Hamilton Motsamai, who discovers the circumstances and events that led to the shooting: Duncan’s brief homosexual affair with Jespersen; his desperate love for Natalie, a girl he saved from suicide; his finding Natalie and Jespersen having sex. Unfortunately, these circumstances shed no light on the mystery; they only deepen it.
In their search for causes, the Lingards confront the possible effects of South Africa’s violent history, Duncan’s mental instability, the politics of race, and perhaps above all, the easy availability of firearms. The intersection of the personal and the political has always been a part of Nadine Gordimer’s fiction, but in THE HOUSE GUN it takes a new and more subtle twist. The apolitical Lingards, formerly safe in their upper middle class comfort, are forced to see the world, the news, the justice system, and the meaning of guilt and innocence in wholly new ways.
The novel provides no easy answers to the questions and dilemmas it poses, but the similarities between South Africa and America make this book compelling. Moreover, at the core of this complex but highly readable novel is the subject of much great fiction: the mysteries of the human heart, particularly the forces that drive civilized people to violence. For reasons Duncan himself cannot fully comprehend, “Violence is a repetition we don’t seem able to break....”
Sources for Further Study
Artforum. XXXVI, March, 1998, p. S21.
Booklist. XCIV, October 15, 1997, p. 362.
Library Journal. CXXII, November 1, 1997, p. 115.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. January 18, 1998, p. 2.
The Nation. CCLXVI, March 2, 1998, p. 25.
The New York Review of Books. XLV, May 14, 1998, p. 42.
The New York Times Book Review. CIII, February 1, 1998, p. 10.
Partisan Review. LXV, Spring, 1998, p. 259.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLIV, October 20, 1997, p. 52.
The Washington Post Book World. XXVIII, February 8, 1998, p. 15.