Jonathan Ball Publishers has shared an excerpt from North Facing by Tony Peake.
About the book
Peake’s first novel for 20 years is an exquisitely realised story of revisiting a seminal boyhood moment as it plays out – with unexpected and sinister consequences – against the backdrop of political upheaval in South Africa.
For one long, intense week in October, 1962, it looked like the world might end as the Cuban Missile Crisis brought with it an East-West stand-off and the possibility of nuclear holocaust. This dark, bittersweet novel evokes the unease of the period through the experience of a young boy in Pretoria caught up in South Africa’s political unrest following the Sharpeville massacre, Nelson Mandela’s arrest and the State of Emergency.
When Paul Harvey, sensitive, isolated and desperate to fit in at school despite his English parents, is invited to join the most popular pupil’s gang, he will do whatever is required to please the ringleader Andre du Toit. Little does he realise that Du Toit is acting for his father and their friendship is a cover for finding out more about Paul’s parents and their friends.
A charismatic teacher tries to teach the boys about what is happening in the world around them – including racial inequality and the Cuban Missile Crisis – and they become suddenly aware of life beyond the school boundaries. The pupils sense hidden dangers looming, Paul’s parents hear of the house arrest of a left-wing friend, the far-right is in the ascendant and South Africa is no longer safe. Added to this sense of unease, the growing realisation of his sexuality and the part he has unwittingly played in the drama unfolding sets Paul still further apart from his peers.
Now a man in his 60s and living abroad, Paul is drawn back to Pretoria to revisit his boyhood home. It has taken him most of his life to grasp and make sense of his past: the other boys, the masters, his own and Du Toit’s parents who so puzzlingly populated and controlled his world.
About the author
Tony Peake was born in South Africa but has lived most of his life in London. He is an acclaimed short story writer with work in many anthologies including The Penguin Book of Contemporary South African Short Stories, The Mammoth Book of Gay Short Stories, and Best British Short Stories2016. He is the author of two previous novels, A Summer Tide (1993) and Son to the Father (1995), and the authorised biography of Derek Jarman (1999). For the last 30 years he has been a literary agent.
Read an excerpt:
‘I don’t understand it,’ Paul’s mother was saying. ‘Mrs Merinkavitch manages and she hardly pays her garden any attention, just leaves it to her boy. Who, I might add, looks gormless.’
She was in her gardening clothes: a dun-coloured skirt long since demoted from best, a plain blouse, a pair of scuffed leather shoes with low heels, and, of course, owing to her mistrust of the sun, a wide-brimmed straw hat that obscured the fineness of her dark, wavy hair. In her gloved hand was a trowel.
‘Back home,’ she went on, ‘Granny always used to say what green fingers I had. This climate, though …’
Grasping Paul’s shoulder – for she’d been kneeling on a strip of sacking before the flowerbed in question – she used him to lever herself upright.
‘In England you crave the sun. All the best houses are south-facing. Lack of rain is never an issue. Well, hardly. Things grow. And grow and grow. Willy-nilly. But here … ’ She let the trowel in her gloved hand fall against her skirt, smearing it with dust.
Paul lived with his parents in a small village that was generally regarded as being a cut above other such settlements on the fringes of Pretoria. Quarter-acre plots, common elsewhere, were non-existent in posh Nellmapius. In Nellmapius an acre was about the smallest you could get, with the result that trees were abundant; and, since greenery was, on the highveld, to be desired, so too was the village. Charming, people said. So different from its neighbours, so – well, English, they supposed. The sort of place where a person with Peggy’s background might feel quite at home.
‘It really is hopeless!’ she concluded, gesturing with her trowel towards her wilting Transvaal daisies. ‘Why do I even bother?’