‘Most of the stories have been told by now, it’s just the ways of telling that are new’—Damon Galgut talks with Mark Gevisser about his new novel, The Promise

Damon Galgut was in conversation with Mark Gevisser recently for the launch of his latest novel, The Promise. This is a lightly edited transcript of that conversation.


The Promise
Damon Galgut
Umuzi, 2021



Mark Gevisser: The Promise is one of the most thrilling literary experiences I’ve had in a very long time. I’ve read it twice, once in draft and once between covers, these very handsome covers, and it is quite remarkable in the way it hits on truths—on political truths, on emotional truths—through a kind of experimental, innovative style that has deep, deep roots in modernist literature. But at the same time is all of Damon’s own and this moment’s own. I think that is one of the triumphs of this book, its genealogy and its uniqueness. So congratulations, Damon, it’s really wonderful to be with you. I’m going to begin with a citation by Claire Messud from her review in Harper’s Magazine. She wrote

‘To praise the novel in its particulars—for its seriousness; for its balance of formal freedom and elegance; for its humour, its precision, its human truth—seems inadequate and partial. Simply: you must read it. Like other remarkable novels, it is uniquely itself, and greater than the sum of its parts.’

Let’s begin, Damon, by talking about those parts and adding them up. Perhaps you can tell us a little bit about the structure of the book, what it concerns, and how you came to this structure.

Damon Galgut: As I’m sure you know, Mark, books arrive in unexpected ways. We’re always, as writers, looking for the next project, what might be interesting enough to occupy us for a few years, and I’m no different in that respect. The very first germ of the book came from a conversation with a friend who is a bit older than me and who is, as it happens, the last surviving member of his family; he has lost his mother, his father, his brother and his sister. He is a very funny raconteur and he had me in stitches one day with a series of anecdotes about incidents at the four family funerals that he’d been to. Funerals are very sad events, obviously, but they tend to involve the living more than the dead, and it occurred to me that it might be an interesting structure for a book to look at a family’s history through the device of four funerals. If all you were telling was what happened at this particular time when this body was being buried, and you saw the same cast of characters, you know, at the next funeral and the next one and the next one—

Mark Gevisser: With diminishing returns as they die off …

Damon Galgut: Well, some people die, but there are always more stepping in. This is a history of the living, not the dead. And starting with that as a framework I sort of went sideways and thought, well, you could do more than just tell the family history, you could, if you spaced those funerals out in different decades of South African history, open the window a little bit wider and show some of the background of where South Africa was at that point. So the structure of the book is basically four snapshots in each of which a member of the same family has been put into the ground. But you’re seeing more or less the same cast of characters, a little bit older, maybe not wiser, but different. So that’s how I arrived at the structure of it. Like other writers I’m always looking for unusual ways to tell stories, because most of the stories have been told by now, it’s just the ways of telling that are new.

Mark Gevisser: The first of the four moments is in 1986 during the State of Emergency, and that is when the almost saintly mother of this family, Rachel Swart, dies of cancer, and her thirteen-year-old daughter, Amor, is pulled out of a boarding school to go home to deal with the death of her mother and with her family. And then in subsequent chapters, as we transition from the nineteen-eighties into the promise—the book is called The Promise—of the post-apartheid future, various other members of the family expire in quite horrific ways. We follow the family with precisely that mordant humour you heard from the raconteur, who was telling you about his family as they bury their loved ones, and various other things happen along the way. I’d like you to read, if you would, a section from that first chapter, which is called ‘Ma’, after Amor the thirteen-year-old has returned home and the family has united in grief over the death of the matriarch.

Damon Galgut: I’d better give a little bit of context to this reading. It comes from fairly early on and we start when it’s focused on the family sleeping. So we’re visiting, as it were, each member of the family and we’re getting a little bit of an insight into the dreams that are taking place.

Listen to the excerpt:

Mark Gevisser: As I listened to you read I was reminded that your background is in the theatre, as a writer and as a director, and even as a performer. This might give us a clue to my next question: who is this narrator floating over sleeping bodies, and is then in a military campground watching the one member of the family who isn’t there; who tells us to ‘note the nautical terms’ that it’s using, and who says ‘it’s not unusual for Amor, believe me’? Who is able to be very much inside these characters, but can also pull them all together and make broad sweeping statements about the merging of these dreams into one entity?

Damon Galgut: Ja, well. I’m the narrator, of course. But, you know, every book written in the third person has, by tradition, an omniscient voice narrating its story. I’ve been wanting to write a third-person narrative for quite a while, and have been frustrated by the conventions of the genre. In the end a third-person narration is not much different to a first-person narration, in the sense that you’re limited, usually, by the conventions that apply. So even an omniscient narrator is meant to tell you a story that’s grounded in scenes that are well established, in which the reader gets a sense that, okay, this is your main character, this might be your antagonist, this is the background to the situation we’re in, and so on. All of which is a kind of creaky way of wheeling the machinery into place and setting the plot in motion. And I did begin this in a more conventional way. I started writing the story as I conceived it and quickly became quite frustrated with myself and with it, and with the limitations that it posed. And then fortuitously or otherwise I got sidetracked into writing a couple of drafts of a film script which was offered to me, I’m talking a few years back, I needed the money, I needed the diversion, and I was happy to be sidetracked for eight months or so. And, you know, the film script in one very key respect transformed my book for me. Because when I returned to the novel, the mode of narration that film scripts required was still very much in my brain, and I suddenly saw that all my frustrations with the third-person narration could be subverted if I just extended the range of the voice a little bit. In other words what I saw was that it was possible to work with prose in the same way that a film works; that I could tell the story with the logic of a cinematic narrative. I could zoom in up close on a particular moment, I could pull back really, really far and give it a kind of historical, epic dimension, I could jump from character to character, even in the middle of the scene, because cameras work like that. And this realisation was sort of scary because I didn’t know if it would work, but it was also quite liberating because it gave me the means to play narratively. So that’s what I did. And part of the playing, which you’ve put your finger on, is that it opened up this space in the narrative voice where I could comment on the fact that I was narrating something. So this is a narrator who’s telling you what happens, but at the same time knows that he or she is telling a story and is aware of the way in which he or she is doing that and can comment on it as well.

Mark Gevisser: That theatrical convention is to have a narrator who is also sort of quirky or idiosyncratic, unreliable in some ways, and in that way may or may not be you, Damon the writer. And there are certain things that the narrator also can’t see or chooses not to see, or sees and chooses not to tell us, like the evil thoughts inside of a priest or the dirty thoughts inside of a doctor, where the narrator says ‘we’re not going to go there, if you don’t mind’. Or very memorably, and very significantly, there’s a central character, a domestic worker named Salome, who, the narrator makes very clear is impossible to enter, cannot be seen in the way the other characters are seen. This has both narrative and political impact.

Damon Galgut: It’s quite a sharp comment on your part, incidentally, that that’s a theatrical convention. I think that theatre and cinema in some ways are ahead of novels because they play with narrative in ways that maybe the novel is not bold enough to do a lot of the time, although there’s no reason why it shouldn’t. Where narration is concerned, I’m as fascinated with the edge of the map as I am with what narration covers. In the same way that if you’re working with cinema there’s a whole bunch of things outside what the camera is seeing. For example, a character on screen can be talking to somebody off screen, and it’s sort of required of the audience that they imagine the other character and what’s happening. So I’m quite fascinated narratively with what’s not said. In the case of this book, we’re opening the window in four different decades but we’re not being filled in with what might have happened to the characters in the intervening time. For me that’s quite enjoyable. You see a character who’s ten years older and his life’s in a different place but it’s not being explained to you where that person might have gone or what might have befallen them, you just see that their life is different. Which actually is how a lot of human life works, right? You meet someone you haven’t seen in years and years and you don’t know everything that’s happened to them, but you can see that they’ve aged or they’ve changed and so on. All of that’s off screen or off stage, as it were. So I quite liked that. You mentioned the fact that we have a central black character whose life is not explained, whose experiences are not narrated. Now obviously that’s a deliberate choice on my part. I mean I could have gone there, but in terms of the subject matter of this book I decided early on that this is a book about white South Africans, it’s about the white South African psyche, if there is an entity like that, and I thought I would look at the black characters that turn up in the story only as far as the white gaze of this narration would go, which is to say not very far at all. So there was a certain amount of fun, painful fun but fun nevertheless, in giving you a little bit of knowledge about these black characters and then stopping right there, because I know the white characters in this house would not have enquired any further than that, so that’s as much as I’m telling my audience as well. In a way my not telling you something tells you something about how people think.

Mark Gevisser: I want to come back to that a little bit later. But before we do, I want to explore your comment that cinema and theatre are perhaps ahead of prose fiction—because there is in fact an older experimental fictional style you work with. At some point in your writing this book you said you wanted to read some Virginia Woolf, and you did, I think you read—was it Mrs Dalloway or To the Lighthouse?

Damon Galgut: Well, I read pretty much everything. She’s a recent discovery for me.

Mark Gevisser: Why did you want to read her while thinking about writing The Promise?

Damon Galgut: Hmm. I discovered Virginia Woolf at the right time. I stumbled on her early on in the writing process, but obviously her achievement, working with multiple voices, polyphonic narratives, is very central to what I’m doing here. You know, she’s celebrated as a great modernist for obvious reasons and the roots of the book lie in modernism. They lie pretty much with the modernists that I encountered earlier in my life. Very fundamental to me in my reading history were William Faulkner, an Australian writer called Patrick White, Samuel Beckett—most of the people celebrated as the great modernist writers were the writers that spoke most loudly and clearly to me when my writing consciousness was being shaped. Virginia Woolf wasn’t part of that for whatever reason, she’s an omission in my reading until relatively recently, and it was a great pleasure incidentally to share some of my newfound enthusiasm about Virginia Woolf with you, because I know she’s an old passion of yours. But very clearly with books like The Waves or To the Lighthouse Virginia Woolf is playing with time, she’s playing with voice, in ways that are very resonant with this particular project. Not that I was trying to imitate her, but it helps to feed the general enthusiasm if you’re reading people who are playing in the same way you’re playing. Which I’m sure you know all about.

Mark Gevisser: The critical writing about The Promise so far has has spoken of its proximity to Woolf, to Joyce, to Faulkner, to the high practitioners of modernism, and I would put Beckett in there as well. In his New Yorker review of your book, James Wood wrote:

‘… modernist writing like Woolf’s sometimes appears to have expired along with its serious and experimental epoch, a moment when political and moral disenchantment was met by a belief in literature’s regenerative power.’

I think he’s right about the modernist writing having expired, and in his observation that we no longer live in a serious and experimental epoch when it comes to writing. That era was indeed one of political and moral disenchantment that those writers tried to meet with their belief in literature’s regenerative power. Your novel charts thirty years of deep political and moral disenchantment, and I wonder if that’s why you felt the need to reach back to these forms of modernism, to the way Woolf occupies all sorts of subjectivities, to the absurdism of Beckett, to the allusive mordant humour of Joyce, as a way of dealing with this disenchantment. I ask this in the context of the way your story tracks these years very directly, in the falling apart of the South African promise.

Damon Galgut: I mean it’s a fair question, but I’d feel slightly fraudulent if I said to you I’d embarked on the writing with those intentions fully formed and clear in my head. That wasn’t the case. As I’m sure you know, books accumulate, you get an idea, you get a second idea, you start to play and then something else fastens onto that and so on. So the notion of looking at South Africa’s recent history came to me quite late, to be honest. My embarkation point with this book was really to look at the family. I didn’t really have a grand sense of staging, that this might be looking at something larger. That came slowly to me because I thought, alright, I’ve got four funerals, and then I realised, well, you could set each of the four funerals in a different decade of South African history. And that opened up the possibility that, alright, there would be a different president in power and there would be a different sort of reigning spirit over the land, and it might be fun, for want of a better word, to conjure that spirit and to show it as part of the ethos of that section of the book. So the project really had quite modest aspirations in that respect. I was playing with other things too, which maybe don’t register so strongly—for example, each funeral takes place in a different season. It’s not important whether the reader notices that or not but it’s important to me. And I was somewhat surprised that so many readers have picked up on the political or historical dimension of the book, because it wasn’t that big in my own mind. I was seeing the characters and the personal aspect as much larger than the politics—it was meant to be, you know, wallpaper—but very clearly that’s not the way it’s come across. So if this is a book rising to meet the historical moment—I had no such grandiose intention when I began. I’m very, very happy if I fulfilled that, but to be honest with you it was not part of what I was aspiring to.

Mark Gevisser: I don’t want to diminish what ‘fun’ might mean for a writer—I don’t want to make it seem casual, like a night out on the town—but it is quite fascinating and even a little shocking to hear you use the word to describe the experience of writing of what is really such pain and abjection. That balance is very powerful in the book. When you speak about ‘fun’ I wonder if it isn’t your belief in literature’s regenerative power, when faced with ‘the horror, the horror’, as Anton says, at what’s happening to this family, to the country. Some critics have found the book very bleak, even bleaker than JM Coetzee’s Disgrace—and we can talk about the parallels in a minute. But what seems to me to be, if not redemptive then at least hopeful, is the regenerative power carried by literary ‘fun’; of ‘fun’ as a creative rather than a destructive instinct.

Damon Galgut: I did have—I want to say that—I did have an enormous amount of fun writing this. And I’m not sure I could have completed the project if that wasn’t the case. And the fun is rooted absolutely in the voice, which as I’ve articulated came to me at a relatively late point, when I realised that you could tell the story in unexpected ways. So although the story itself is heavy, and the subject matter—aging and death—is heavy, I think the narrative voice is light, and it was inside the narrative voice that I had the fun I had—and I really did, I really did. I think I would not have been able to carry on with such a death-saturated book if I was not free to play. So that narrative voice basically opened up a space in which I could comment on the characters, comment on what they were thinking and doing, but also comment on myself and the way that I was telling the story. There was an enormous element of play in that.

Mark Gevisser: Is there something in that commentary on the self, that self awareness, that ability to look at the self, in which you see creative or regenerative power? Because so many of the characters in this book—well all of them but for one, really, the survivor—are totally blind to who they are in the world, and the one woman who survives, the one member of the family who doesn’t die, is able to reflect.

Damon Galgut: You’re doing a juggling act as a novelist, really. I work with creative writing students a fair bit, and something I often tell them is that there’s this idea that if you engage with your material and you have this kind of cathartic experience of, you know, yes, I identify, I relate, I have these passionate emotions, you feel you’ve really done your job as a writer. And in fact that’s just the beginning of your job. You do need to engage with material, you need to feel it from the inside in order to be able to set it down in any shape or form. But you also need to be detached from it, you need to be outside that material, to be judging it and reading it as if somebody else wrote it—because how else are you going to improve it, how are you going to take it another step further, if you can’t be critical of your own work? So there’s this simultaneous internal engagement and this attempt to be external, to pull back and look at it from outside, which I think is what messes with writers’ heads most of the time.

Mark Gevisser: That’s fair enough and very interesting, that’s about the creative process as a writer—

Damon Galgut: No, no, but it’s not just about the process—not if you try to build it into the material. Now I’ve tried to do that once before with an earlier book, In a Strange Room, in which the narrative switches between a first-person voice—the book is talking about somebody called Damon who very clearly seems to be me, and sometimes I’m talking out of that person, I’m speaking as an ‘I’—I did this, I said this, I—and at other times, sometimes in the same sentence, I switch to an external perspective, and say ‘he did this, he felt this, he said that’. So that’s a way of coding this process that I’ve been talking about, being inside and outside at the same time, it’s a way of coding it into the text itself. And I’ve tried to do the same thing here, so at some points this narrative is very clearly third person, but then the narrative perspective gets so close to a character that it almost falls into that character’s outlook. So when I was feeling, as a narrator, very, very close to a particular character, I would sometimes lapse into first person. But I tried to build it in, as part of the language of the book, part of the idiom of the way of telling the story, that it could be first person sometimes and then at other times it would be more detached.

Mark Gevisser: What I’m reaching for is whether it becomes an ethical question rather than just a style. 

Damon Galgut: Well, what do you mean by ethical?

Mark Gevisser: Well, that it becomes an answer to how to live, particularly as a white South African in this country at this time, or maybe not an answer but a suggestion or a solution …

Damon Galgut: I have to say I feel an instinctive shrinking away when I hear phrases like ‘how to live’. The role of the novelist at a certain point was seen as somebody who could deliver that kind of moral advice, that the novelist was somebody who would tell you how to live, that the novelist knew, that the novelist was wiser than the ordinary person. That’s a role for a writer I’ve always felt instinctively … I don’t know what the word is, but I just, I don’t have that wisdom. I don’t feel I do. I don’t know how to live—

Mark Gevisser: You might have it more than you’d admit or know, and that’s not a bad thing. If you knew it you might be terribly self-righteous and therefore a very boring novelist. But I think about Amor, your central character: the choices she makes and her power of reflection, but also what is lost in her to be able to make those choices, how she has to lose contact with other people to make those choices. There’s something about that terrible predicament that renders her something of a South African everyperson, engaged in a moral journey …

Damon Galgut: I can only answer this question in terms of this particular book and how it worked for me. I don’t see Amor as the sole protagonist, to be honest. For me this book has two antagonists, that is Amor and her older brother Anton. I realised during the writing that Amor and Anton, brother and sister, who are facing off over the question of this crappy piece of land that has supposedly been left or should have been left to the black woman who works for their family … the two of them in some way embody what I feel to be—I’m sorry these are inadequate descriptions—but the two sides of my own nature and maybe the two sides of a kind of white South African nature, if you like. Anton is far more selfish, concerned with his own interests, his future, his sense of self. Amor, his younger sister, who might or might not have something wrong with her, is far more self denying, a little bit of a Simone Weil kind of figure, somebody who believes you need to give stuff up to other people in order for all of us to live properly. A little bit of a saint and a little bit inadequate as a result. But the two of them in some way represent the two aspects of my own nature. So when I say I’m working off them in this book I’m not trying to prescribe what white South Africans should be doing with their future. I don’t think what Amor does, which is effectively to renounce her inheritance, I’m not prescribing that as a way forward for this country. I don’t know that that’s what white South Africans should be prepared to do, or even whether it would help us. All I know is that in terms of the particular dilemma that I set up—in other words this piece of land and what ought to happen to it—that Amor represents one side of my instincts, which is, give it up, give up your inheritance, give up what you own because it’s the right thing to do.

Mark Gevisser: And what does Anton represent, of your instincts?

Damon Galgut: Well, you know, I’m also a white South African, I’m a white male. In the first section of the book Anton sees his future as set up for him. He’s this golden boy who just by virtue of being white and male somehow steps into the position of absolute power. And if apartheid hadn’t ended his life would have been set up for him, basically. He didn’t need to do anything else, it would have been handed to him. And that’s also what you and I stepped into by virtue of birth. Everything’s changed since then and I wanted in some way to show what’s changed. I mean not only the future but also the options that are open. You know, Anton can give up his birthright but he won’t because he thinks he should be holding on to it. He thinks he should hold on to what he has, which a great many South Africans feel, and I don’t know whether they’re right or wrong. But I identify with Amor, finally, more than with Anton, rightly or wrongly.

Mark Gevisser: Anton is such a fuck-up, and it’s not clear whether he’s a fuck-up because he killed a woman when he was on active duty in the township, and then became a conscientious objector, and then the end of apartheid happened, or whether he’s a fuck-up because his father’s a fuck-up and because he comes from this family with all sorts of intergenerational traumas. But he’s not being asked to give up his inheritance, he’s being asked to give up just a portion of his inheritance, that’s all. Which is what Amor believes was promised to Salome, the black maid. Does he refrain from doing it because he doesn’t want to do it or because he’s kind of useless and can’t make a decision? I thought there was something about that that was a sort of white South African-ness, a kind of an inertia, an inaction that I felt quite awkwardly as having its finger on white South Africans of our generation.

I wanted to note, too, that when you speak about these two antagonists as versions of yourself I immediately thought of The Good Doctor. Laurence Waters, is ‘the good doctor’ who, like Amor, wants to give everything to making this new South Africa a better place. And then there’s the more cynical narrator Frank Eloff, who has seen it all and who like Anton is a casualty of having done military service, and is much more sardonic about everything. Of your previous works The Promise resonates for me most with The Good Doctor. I wonder if it does so for you too?

Damon Galgut: Yes, maybe for the reasons you’ve just raised, because that’s an astute comment. As I recall I think I started writing The Good Doctor from the perspective of Laurence, the more idealistic doctor, and then realised that he wouldn’t make a very interesting narrator; idealists don’t make for interesting narrators generally. Laurence and Frank probably do represent warring sides of the white South African psyche, certainly as they live in me. I don’t think Amor is idealistic in the way that Laurence is, that kind of idealism is maybe gone. Amor just thinks, this promise was made, we should fulfil the promise. And there’s something dogged and maybe a little bit simplistic about the way she just sticks to that, we made a promise, this promise must be kept.

Mark Gevisser: As you say there might be something wrong with her, neurologically.

Damon Galgut: We know she was struck by lightning as a child and several other characters say they think there’s something the matter with her, so yes, maybe there’s something the matter with Amor, maybe her insistence on fulfilling this promise is just not realistic and therefore there’s something wrong with her. This aspect of the book, the question of the land, comes from a different friend and a different family anecdote that somebody told me. This friend’s mother died a long time ago, she’d been very ill and she’d been tended through her last illness by a black woman who had been working for their family for years and years, and the whole family promised, as the mother wished, that the broken-down house in which this black lady lived and the piece of land on which it’s situated would be given to her. And yet the family hedged and blocked and argued, despite the fact that they promised, for decades and decades and decades, until quite recently, signing over this piece of land. Now this struck me as a very South African story. I mean obviously the question of land and who owns it is central to South Africa but this is not an important piece of property, and the house is not that desirable. And yet this family would not give it up. Now that strikes me as quite South African too. Whether Anton and the rest of the family just are victims of inertia, as you would have it, or whether they have more complicated reasons for not giving it up is sort of part of the book. To my mind it’s not just inertia on Anton’s part, although it’s harder to articulate—why would you not give up this shitty little house and the crap piece of land it stands on? Because you own it. You already own it, why give it up? That seems to me to be very much part of how white South Africa operates. It’s naive and simplistic maybe to a level that matches Amor but I’ve often wondered how much different this country would be if, let’s leave colour out of it, if people who are privileged enough to own a little money, a little land, a little something in the setup we have here, would just give up part of it to people who have nothing. Maybe our general situation would be very different and maybe a little bit better. So I guess that unspoken question is behind this book.

Mark Gevisser: That’s beautifully put. It’s really those ideas unformed in my mind that stayed with me when I finished the book. Claire Messud in her review in Harper’s said:

The Promise evokes, when you reach the final page, a profound interior shift that is all but physical. This, as an experience of art, happens only rarely, and is to be prized.’

I think those words are true and I’ve been thinking about what that profound interior shift is, and maybe that’s it. It’s being faced with a thought of how our world might be different if those of us who had something were willing to give it up. And I suppose even if you didn’t set out to write a moral fable, what one leaves with puts the novel in that realm, and it makes me think of Coetzee’s Disgrace. In Disgrace you also have a white woman at the end, this time who decides to stay on the land and give birth to the child of her rapist, even after she’s been viciously attacked, rather than fleeing the land, fleeing the country, which she could do. I wondered if you were thinking of Coetzee and Disgrace when you were writing.

Damon Galgut: I mean it’s hard not to, right? It’s a book that casts quite a long shadow. And I was aware that Amor in some respects probably conjured, you know, that female figure at the end of Coetzee’s book. I sort of hoped I’d sidestepped it until I gave it to a few people to read for their feedback, among those people as you know was you, and you raised this question, so I thought, well, maybe I haven’t escaped quite as neatly as I believed. I wrestled with that question, but I don’t think that what’s being asked of people is the same in both cases. You’re somewhat gliding over the matter of the rape in Disgrace.

Mark Gevisser: Fair enough.

Damon Galgut: Because a lot of my feminist friends were outraged by Disgrace or at least very, very exercised by it. It seems to be the case that he’s saying, this is the price, this is the price of living in the new South Africa, that perhaps you will be violated and you will simply have to accept that, and that is the cost. I don’t think that’s what’s being articulated in my book; at least it’s certainly not what I was consciously trying to articulate. Having to give up your bodily integrity is one thing. Having to give up a small piece of land, even a small piece of your inheritance, is quite another. I don’t know that I would prescribe for white South Africans giving up their bodily integrity as a way forward, but I do think it’s not perhaps too much to ask that white South Africans give up something of what they have. It seems a more realistic way forward. Again, not that I was prescribing it. It really is something that arose out of the terms that my own book created.

Mark Gevisser: I would argue that it’s a very simplistic reading of Coetzee to read that he’s advocating that or that his character is advocating that.

Damon Galgut: I’d agree and argue the point too, but even in broad terms it seems to me that what’s being asked of Lucy at the end of Disgrace is a different proposition to what Amor has chosen to give up at the end of my book.

Mark Gevisser: Damon, in conclusion, you are currently busy with a collection of short stories. How has writing The Promise affected your prose style in these stories? Do you feel you have hit on a new voice—or a new stylistic approach—that we’re going to hear more of in the years to come?

Damon Galgut: Maybe not in the stories, because you need a larger canvas to play in that way. And maybe not in future novels either, because it’s a key part of each writing project that you find the right voice for it. Could you carry this voice over to another kind of story and expect it to work? That all depends. I guess I’ll find out.

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