Friday, May 24, 2013

Horseman by Mike Nicol #review

Title: Horseman
Author: Mike Nicol
Publisher: Knopf, 1995

This reads as a sort of twisted Hero's Journey: a story in two parts that's a sort of post-apocalyptic myth playing out in southern Africa. The first concerns the youth who is wild and unsophisticated. All his father leaves him is a legacy of violence and a gun. He takes up with his twisted mentor, Madach, and they embark on a journey soaked in violence, death and senseless depravity. These are creatures ruled by their base passions.

Men see the youth's potential and seek to twist it to their own ends yet despite everything that happens to him, he retains a wild animalistic streak yearning for freedom.

In the second part of Horseman, the youth is now named Daupus (a name that means death) and he rides a pale horse. Allegory much. And death does follow in his wake. He is as remorseless as he was in the first half of the book. Whereas the malignant horsemen that haunted him in the first half could be seen as initiators, he has now taken up that role. But he doesn't bring enlightenment, and the only change he sows in people's lives are their demise.

Overall, my feelings are mixed. This is not an easy book to read, and readers who are upset by graphic descriptions of rape, child abuse, objectification of women, gratuitous violence, murder and warfare would do best to avoid this one. While I don't agree with the aforementioned, I do believe it's important that we turn these ideas over and try to understand them. And what the author does is examine the nature of the evil inherent in mankind. There is nothing redeeming about this tale. It's going to make you feel that there is no hope for mankind.

Some of the stark imagery will stay with me, particularly the scene where one of the men, delirious from purifying wounds, walks out into the night. No one stops him yet they know the hyenas are waiting to eat him. Another, where the group ruthlessly hunts down a man who was unlucky to be caught out in the open, was chilling.

The language is magical, almost dreamlike, as if you're sitting around a fireside listening to to a storyteller recount his tale. You are reminded constantly of the ruthless cruelty within us that is just below the skin, itching to howl and break loose.

All are guilty in Nicol's telling. Not even men of the cloth can hide behind their so-called holiness. I'm not going to forget this novel in a hurry.

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