The JRB presents an excerpt from Mirage, the debut novel by David Ralph Viviers.
David Ralph Viviers
Read the excerpt:
The Sterfontein Hotel, 1899
The day the sign appears in the sky, Elizabeth watches William Booysen carry the carcass away. It is slung over his shoulder, the head and forelegs limp above the ground. As he crosses in front of the dining-room window, his eyes catch hers and something—some current of meaning—passes through the glass between them. Then he nods, once, and continues out of view.
How many deaths is it now? Elizabeth’s hands move along the old pathways: they scrape off butter onto the side of her plate, put a teaspoon of sugar into her tea, measure out twelve drops from a half-empty bottle of laudanum. But her eyes remain fixed out the window, at the place where he stood a moment before.
No one else knows what is killing the animals. There are no gashes, no blood. The bodies are untouched, the wool still white. A new disease, they say, sweeping the Karoo, cleansing the land of sin. Of course, Elizabeth has known the truth behind the deaths for a while now, but as she takes another sip of tea she can’t help wondering if the God left behind at St Raphael’s isn’t demanding atonement for what she has done.
You shall offer a male goat without blemish as a sin offering, and they shall cleanse the altar.
And now that the sign has appeared in the sky, hanging above the hotel in the middle of the desert, it seems that what the prophets predicted might actually be coming true. The end of the world is here.
Mr Douglas gave them the news yesterday: the British have broken off all negotiations with Kruger. War is imminent. Soon, dead sheep will be replaced by dead men. In earth’s final days, bloody-limbed soldiers will lie between the sheets upstairs.
Her eyes move along the railway line carving through the veld. She can be on the evening train to Cape Town if she wants. Twenty-four hours and she will be secured by the amphitheatre of Table Mountain and the Lion’s rump, walking along clean, right-angled streets.
But, for now, until the world ends or she is asked to leave, the routine must remain the same. Twelve drops of laudanum, to be taken at breakfast.
The morning started in the usual way, with Elizabeth on her hands and knees next to the bed, stretching out an arm into darkness. As they’d done every morning before, her fingers made contact with cold iron: yes, it was still there, it was quite safe. She then washed her face at the basin (had the crack running through its centre always been there?) and dressed in the early morning light. Like the bluegums taking form on the opposite side of the riverbank, a sentence had been shaping in her mind before her eyes opened. She lit a lamp to set it down:
Michael stands at the edge of the world and looks up into the eternal stars. He begins stitching the silver threads between them.
It is what she’s been searching for: how Michael will capture the moon, how the story will end. Whatever is meant to occur in the blank space after the last word must now do so. She blew out the flame and put down her pen, exhausted from two sentences.
For the past few months, sleep has not come easily. The dream has started again, a soft humming, the whirr of wings: she’s lying in her bed, aware that another presence waits nearby. A young boy, just out of reach. Here I am, he whispers. Take me with you. There are things she needs to say to him—important things—but her mouth is unable to make the right shapes: each time the moan begins forming in her throat, she jolts awake.
She then lies there, trying to steady her breathing, exhausting the possibilities of the publisher’s response to her letter. She explained that she was nearly finished. If they could only read what she had so far, the final chapter would follow. As the imagined replies write themselves across the ceiling, her fingers pick at the same spot of wallpaper, just above the bed. A grey patch is emerging between clusters of bluebells and ink fingermarks. Shaped almost like Britain.
Now, at breakfast, it’s easy to sit amongst bone china and oranges, and ponder day-to-day things, like train schedules and dying sheep. From inside the hotel, one can gaze out at the landscape through a veil of muslin, wondering why the post is late again this morning. But the lacquer on its pillars is starting to flake. On the teacup in her hands, the tips of the robin’s wing have already faded. The bleakness outside seeps through the cracks in the walls even as branches of bluegum sputter in the grate.
‘The madam mustn’t get too hot now or she’ll catch her death when she goes for her walk,’ Magrietjie says as she clears away the side plate, her eyes narrowing at the ink marks in the butter. ‘A storm is coming.’
It hardly matters, Elizabeth wants to say. Have you not heard about the sign that is to appear in heaven tonight? Do you not count the dead sheep? The Karoo will swallow them all. It will reclaim the polished glass through which they all stare and everything it encloses: white sheets and pitchers of cream, toast and books and gilded frames promising the shades of softer countrysides.
She leans forwards to smell the rose in its crystal vase. Does anything make less sense in this landscape than these petals? The note is still folded in her drawer upstairs, its words etched behind her lids: I cannot see a single rose in our village without thinking of what will never bloom. Throughout the hotel, roses (especially the one buried in the centre of her name) are reminders of what has been lost, of what lies in the iron box under her bed. Of her inability to write about the things that have happened here.
The world has been coming undone for a while, Elizabeth thinks as she cuts her toast in two. She surveys the land before her, cleaved by the railway line, a fissure spreading further upcountry every day. There are the mines at Kimberley and Witwatersrand. The Chartered Company continue their decimation up north, burning kraals in their wake as the sign circles the sky.
You have made the land to quake; you have torn it open.
Across the colony, holes have turned the ground porous. Something was bound to rupture. And now it has: in a few days, the holes will have spread to bodies.
She takes another sip of tea and considers the koppies in the distance. A single cloud hangs above the nearest one, where the scarlet curtain billows on top, covering the entrance to another realm. There has been a collision in heaven …
‘Good morning, Elizabeth.’
Stale crab-apple perfume intrudes into the fire’s eucalyptus. It douses her thoughts of the curtain, of the woman clothed in the sun, moon and stars. They are the only two in the room so far and some exchange seems necessary.
‘Isn’t it? Quite fresh,’ she mumbles, not turning around.
‘Speak up, dear.’
It isn’t because of her weakening state. She’s had the problem her entire life: a voice that passes through objects, unable to catch the edges of things. Maybe this is why she became a writer, to fix her sentences into a more tangible form. The world is about to end. It no longer matters.
‘I said the morning is quite fresh.’
Margaret takes a seat at the table next to hers. ‘How are you feeling? Headache better?’ She turns to face her companion, and flinches. ‘Good god, Elizabeth. Your eyes …’
Margaret Baker is one of the patients who have come to Sterfontein for their chest complaints, the tightness that ails so many pairs of foreign lungs. Doctors everywhere prescribe cold Karoo air to those heard wheezing and moaning from their rooms in the early hours of the morning.
There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Elizabeth has often felt the hotel is closer to a phthisis museum, curated by the village physician, Walter Barry McClintock. And now the display will change from failing lungs to dismembered limbs.
As if reminded of her own ailment, Margaret measures out a spoon of Hull’s Lung Tonic, stirring it into her tea. ‘Have you heard? Another sheep. Found near the top of a hillock.’
Elizabeth rubs a thumb over the robin’s disappearing wing, saying nothing.
‘Still finding enough to write about? None of Table Mountain’s bright heather to stir the soul. It all seems rather … dead.’ A tight whistle as she blows into her teacup. Then quieter: ‘Perhaps the wrong word, under the circumstances. Unless …’ She looks up, observing the effect her next sentence will have: ‘Unless one finds a suitable companion to make things less dreary?’
Elizabeth keeps her gaze out the window, at the place where William had stood. ‘There is little use for words out in the veld.’
‘A marvel you should come all this way to write about it then. Tell me, how many synonyms for brown have you found?’
‘Perhaps the fault lies in the eyes trained on gaudy colours and fanciful shapes,’ she says, more to herself than to Margaret. She, too, takes a lukewarm sip of tea. A competition of nonchalance.
As the two women sit there, one thinking of the billowing curtain at the top of the koppie, the other about a clever reply to the first, crystal tinkles above them. The butter knife trembles against its saucer. Margaret looks up from her paper.
Finally, Elizabeth thinks. The earthquake that will cleave this world apart and swallow us all. Margaret with her phlegmatic chest, and herself with her empty pages and useless words. And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, the prophet had written, and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven. Faces blur past the window as the train rushes by. The post has arrived. She swallows a final mouthful of tea and stands up.
In the lobby, more guests have started making their way down the staircase, a few carrying suitcases, ready to depart with the train. One or two smile at her as she pushes her way through coats and cufflinks and gleaming buttons. These are new arrivals. The rest move out of the way, looking down, to let her pass.
‘It’s a crisp morning,’ the doorman says as she steps outside. But the wary look in his face seems unrelated to the weather. It is the wrong word, Elizabeth thinks. ‘Crisp’ belongs to dappled sunlight and pale apple blossoms. Even here, miles away in the desert, one is expected to use the same words that have worked so well in other places. She clasps her arms around her chest as she walks. The world is spinning apart, gravity is weakening, but doormen continue to open doors for ladies on crisp mornings.
Whenever this feeling comes to her, she tries to anchor herself with small truths: crumbs on the tablecloth, a stone at her feet, the weight of the pen between her fingers. The world has not entirely disintegrated if she can still hold onto these things.
Now, her eyes cling to the bulb growing near the station tunnel, the way its roots must cling to the veld. Boophone disticha. When the sun rose during one of her walks, the frosted waves of its leaves had promised more time. Another day to spread butter on toast and anticipate the post. Another day to find the right words. It is the act of waiting, really, which has given the days meaning: knowing that there is something still to come.
Lying in room 303 in the early mornings, in that state of mind which flows between sleep and consciousness, she has thought of what she might see that day: growing in a rocky crevice, or pushing through clay. Without knowing how, she’s come to understand that the plants are connected to the spatter of stars above Sterfontein. That what the stars represent, the opaque feeling that has something to do with distance and time and possibility, the succulents do too. In those grey hours, ensconced by wallpaper as lightning poured through her from far off, Elizabeth Rose Tenant has imagined herself to be a conduit in the middle of the Karoo: here to transform the landscape around the pale hotel into language. Into her fable of the moon-catcher.
Now, as she approaches the platform, she doesn’t feel like a conduit at all. She is a void, encircled by corsets and petticoats, which words have failed to fill.
On the platform, Mr Douglas is talking to the conductor, a red-haired man from Berwickshire, who always seems to have the same smudge of coal on the side of his nose.
‘I don’t know what it is,’ the hotelier is saying. ‘They’re dropping like flies. Third one this week. Must be a new virus, brought in with our imports. Although I suppose it doesn’t matter much any more.’
‘Aye. They say ’tis all about t’end, y’know. That th’ Almighty is already on his way. That—’
‘Let’s hope he arrives before the war does.’
Mr Douglas turns around. ‘Miss Tenant.’ He takes her hand in his: a calibrated pressure, held not a second longer than necessary. ‘How is your headache?’ He looks into her face and recoils. ‘Your eyes …’ His own are wide. ‘They’re blood red.’
The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood.
‘Don’t you worry about me, Mr Douglas. I don’t think I’ll be staying here for much longer.’
The hotelier is silent. Then, softly: ‘Perhaps that is for the best. All things considered.’
‘Perhaps.’ She looks to the conductor. Like those of many people who stand before her, his eyes are fixed on his boots. ‘I was actually hoping you might have something for me.’
People are still stepping off the train for breakfast. Khaki-clad soldiers stand around, smoking, restless. A little boy is staring at her, his head turning, as his mother leads him away. ‘That lady …’ he says. ‘What’s wrong with her?’ His mother shushes him as they disappear through the platform’s tunnel, but the word she hisses remains behind, its fricatives mingling with the steam: something like disgrace. Or insane.
The conductor, stepping back into the train for a moment, returns with an envelope and tucks it into her hand. He rubs the coal stain self-consciously with a finger.
Elizabeth is suddenly breathless. She wishes the two men good day and walks away from the throng, away from the hotel, where the doorman is chatting to a family wrapped up in coats and crimson scarves. She wonders if they have all come to see the sign in the sky, the symbol proclaiming the end of the world. One of them catches her eye. Their conversation stops.
As she walks, she keeps a hand over her coat pocket, to make sure the envelope is still inside. This world has a habit of taking things away, as the box under her bed reminds her each morning. Things fall through cracks never to be seen again.
Halfway up the koppie, she stops to rest. She has been thinking about the midnight conversation with Sister Etta at the convent. It feels like a lifetime ago, a fading realm of stiff linen, scrubbing brushes and that nameless grey guilt beneath it all. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the things we lost in this world merely slipped through a doorway somewhere, into another? But Etta has made it clear she wants nothing more to do with Elizabeth.
Everything around her is ice and shadow, silvered with dew. She feels awake now. The cloud from breakfast hangs directly above her and a few more have gathered on the horizon. Perhaps there will be a storm after all, one of those Karoo tempests where ancient green light tears the sky open and water floods the plains for days.
Sitting on a rock, she watches a beetle scuttle down the length of her shadow, then takes out the envelope. On the back is the address of the publishing firm. She slides a finger under the fold and removes the page inside.
Dear Miss Tenant
She stops reading. For as long as she stares out at the Karoo morning, the paragraph below can contain anything. There are endless possibilities, infinite directions the words can take. If she puts her head down and carries on reading, one of them will have to come true.
In the distance, the train has started to move again, a line of smoke rising into the air as it continues on its way to the Diamond Fields. The village roofs are just catching the morning sun. Sterfontein. If one lingers long enough on the ‘f’, the fountain of stars becomes a fountain of death. Sterf fontein. Her eyes trace up the koppie slope, stop at her feet. How long have the stones lain in these positions? She flips one over with the edge of her boot, wondering if it’s the first time since creation it has ever been moved.
After finishing the letter, she folds it up and tucks it back inside her coat pocket. She thinks of the dead sheep she saw swinging like a pendulum over William’s shoulder, announcing that time is up. She knows what she must do now, the few simple tasks that will get her through this last hour: she will go back to the hotel and take out the box which, for too long, has remained hidden under her bed. She will carry it outside and bury it in the veld. She will leave the final chapter on her bedside table, for whoever might find it. And then she will step through the curtain into the world beyond, as this one splinters to dust behind her.
It comes to her now, as she stands looking out over the village, a calm realisation: she has failed.
The letter is clear. We do not feel that a boy running after the moon is of relevance to the colony in its current state.
The silver threads have not been strong enough.
The stars fall out of the sky.
Somerset West, 1989
Erica looks up into the branches of the liquidambar tree, half a joint between her fingers, thinking about the boy with the hole in his heart who is trying to catch the moon.
You cannot capture the moon by bottling the river.
The book lies open on her lap to words she’s forgotten about, words which once conjured the veld, cold darkness, things flickering on cave walls. They aren’t as vivid as she remembers. The current she felt when she first read them has dimmed a little (or maybe it’s her, maybe her mind has expanded and weathered like the tree, requiring more than it had back then).
She holds the smoke deep within her, until the branches echo what everyone in the country has begun to feel by the end of the decade: alternative possibilities forking off from the past. It’s been a few days since the Berlin Wall fell. A few months since FW replaced PW. There are still limpet mines and bomb threats, and technically the country is not yet out of its state of emergency. But, looking up into the branches now, on the threshold of a new era, it feels as if the earth is seeking new pathways into light and air.
Wow. The weed must be good.
She cranes her neck to see if her mother is still moving around the kitchen and finally lets out the lungful of smoke. It drifts up into the leaves.
Für uns gläubige Physiker hat die Scheidung zwischen Vergangenheit, Gegenwart und Zukunft nur die Bedeutung einer wenn auch hartnäckigen Illusion.
Einstein’s words form the core of her research: For those who can untangle the mysteries of physics, time is nothing but a stubborn illusion. And, if her work up till now has been correct, she thinks the proof might lie within the heart of black holes. These singularities have never been directly detected. But, as she takes another drag, Erica knows—she is certain—there are secrets being flung across the cosmos, ringing out as gravitational waves, ripples in spacetime which must occur when two black holes collide.
For the moment, these ripples are only beautiful ideas. Coded messages, perhaps raining down through the branches right now which, if she knew how to read them, would tell of ancient collisions in heaven, of cracks in the universe, whispering truths of gravity and time.
She brings the book up to her nose: a smell both familiar and faraway. As if proving Einstein’s words true, it cuts cleanly through the years to when she used to sit out here as a twelve-year-old after school, her socks and shoes off to one side, as they are now.
She takes another drag. Tick.
Ash falls onto one of the suns patterned over her jersey. Why has she started wearing it again? To prove something to herself? To her mother? Maybe to her friends who are already gravitating towards shoulder pads and brown linen suits. The jersey smells a bit like mothballs now from being packed away for so long, and is scratchier than she remembers. It’s probably too warm for a jersey anyway, being November. Yet here she is, sitting under the liquidambar tree, clinging to it like a symbol.
It took her three and a half months to knit, in her first year. She wore it to the ECC rally in ’85, when, in undergrad idealism, the suns became emblems of fire and truth, of blazing away stale regimes. She had it on that evening she met Leo on Clifton beach, at a braai with mutual friends. Even now, the spaces between the suns still contain the residue of naked swims and freezing Atlantic water, tobacco smoke and a brief obsession with The Grateful Dead.
Leo was beautiful and funnier than the rest of their group, and played the ukulele cross-legged on the floor in his underpants. Her friends all rolled their eyes when they heard: the astronomer had ended up with a boy named after a constellation.
But Leo wanted to travel the world, lie on the fringes of islands and pick apricots in Italy. The freedom she needs is different: the freezing clarity of the Tankwa Karoo, with only the stars above her and a telescope in the back of her Beetle. Where she’ll be able to wander around the veld alone in her scratchy sun jersey, gazing back into time for as long and as far as she likes, as she finishes her final year of research. Lately, she’s started to suspect that the more you hold on to—people, objects, beliefs—the more they act like dust clouds out in space, obstructing light from the really important things further beyond.
And, now that she thinks about it, the migraines are better. Since leaving Leo, the honeycomb aura which announces their arrival hasn’t returned. Gravity is weakening; she’s been set free from both headaches and men.
Erica tells her mother about the breakup that morning in the kitchen. She only has a few days left before she sets off for the Karoo, so best to get it over and done with.
‘Speak up, Erica. You’re mumbling.’
It’s how most of their conversations start. But this time, Erica just repeats herself calmly above the rasp of grating carrot and whatever is being said over the Hammerstein radio, something about tunnels. Another hole in the South African landscape.
Her mother looks up from her grater, bits of carrot sticking to her fingers. ‘You’re leaving that sweet boy to go look at stars in the desert?’
‘If you want to put it like that. Yes.’
… The Hex River Tunnel was officially opened yesterday. At 13.5 kilometres, it is the longest railway tunnel in Africa …
‘Erica, who are you going to meet out in the Karoo? Next thing you know, you’ll be one of those people who live alone and never wash their hair. Time stops moving in places like that.’
Exactly. ‘I think that’s what Einstein was saying.’
‘Für uns gläubige Physiker hat die Scheidung zwischen Vergangenheit, Gegenwart und Zukunft nur die Bedeutung einer wenn auch hartnäckigen Illusion.’
Her mother sighs and goes back to grating the carrot. ‘I’m sure that means something very important.’
Erica could never do it: live in a suburb, raise a child, grate carrots for other people’s lunches. She’s watched it happen to her friends, watched as their mouths changed shape from forming the same words every day. Words to do with weather, and sinus problems, and asking after growing children. In the suburbs, space and time are linear: it is always late afternoon, the neighbours’ children are always a little taller than yesterday and need to be told this, the day always seems to be drawing to a close, long and orange.
It has already happened to Amy, her best friend, a year ahead of her in the astronomy department. A few months after completing her research on supernovas—cosmic explosions powerful enough to forge gold out of gas—and where is she? Going to a Methodist church down the road, engaged to a balding pool-table salesman whom people call Bud but whose real name no one seems to know or care to learn. And the gold from her supernovas? In a ring on her finger which she fiddles with over tea and forgets she’s shown to you. Erica went round to their house in Rondebosch a few evenings ago. She found herself circled by terrifying objects: practical silicon ice trays, non-stick pans, a frozen box of fish fingers.
Amy took her by the hand and led her into the bedroom, her face suddenly serious. ‘Bud and I are trying.’
She looked around at the vase of strelitzias, the plump cushions, a half-popped blister pack of Clomid on top of a Billy Graham devotional. ‘I can see that.’
Amy laughed (a tight sound, new, that belonged to jokes made at Bible study). ‘No, silly. For a baby.’
Erica turned to her friend then and wondered if we ever really see the person in front of us, or just the parts of them that we can understand through ourselves. Reflecting and absorbing only certain frequencies, like the spectral lines of stars.
She also wondered how many of these things are inevitable. Gathered into our orbit as we get older. Or, worse, maybe it’s the other way around: it is we who end up orbiting these things, our lives suddenly orientated around someone named Bud, a baby, a box of fish fingers standing on the kitchen sink. Is this partly why she is running away to the Karoo, to escape gravity and orbits? Out in the veld, there is no use for thread count and shoulder pads. No Amy and Bud. A place as sparse and beautiful as mathematics itself.
Instead of Teflon and fish fingers, there are fossils and cave paintings, strata overlaid in clear lines so that the past and future stretch upwards in unified forms. If there is proof that Einstein is right, it’ll be out in the Karoo, where time becomes malleable, thickening in some places and thinning out in others, swirling in patterns of crag and cirrus, like the marbling inside the book’s cover. Where things are interchangeable—rocks and clouds, stars and flowers—each containing the other within it.
Lord. How high is she?
She found the book a few days ago, stashed among a Beach Boys cassette and a broken game of Hungry Hungry Hippos. It must be nearly a decade since she’s even thought about it. Which is why she’s come outside now, to recreate the past, to rediscover the promise of distance and time and possibility she first felt under the same liquidambar.
It isn’t quite the same, and maybe she should have known better than to think it would be. But she remembers how her twelve-year-old self found the book before she found the stars, in a second-hand bookshop that smelt of cats and peppermints while she waited for her mother to finish at the bank. Is the story of the moon-catcher what started her off on a career in astronomy? Her fascination with holes in the cosmos? It seems a bit idealistic, even for her, to believe that things written nearly a century ago might have had a pull on the course of her life. But maybe they had. Because soon after finishing it, the three freckles along her collarbone aligned into the belt of Orion.
She doesn’t know how long the man has been standing at the gate, watching her. She stubs out the joint and shields her eyes against the afternoon sun. There’s been a vague sense of mystery around Wilhelm Marais ever since her mother mentioned that something had happened up on the border. He was sent home early from the army, couldn’t carry on for whatever reason, is now filling up his time with flowers. He’s been doing their garden for the last couple of weeks—she watches him from her bedroom window as he conjures blossoms from the earth, things she has no names for.
He undoes the latch and lets himself in. The flower in his hands is one she hasn’t seen before. Delicate, lilac beads.
As he passes, their eyes meet. ‘An erica for Erica.’
It’s the first time he’s spoken to her. She smiles and looks down at the book as he continues around the back.
No. She’ll escape this house, with its flowers and grated carrots. The city with its endless noise and conversation. She’ll be like the moon-catcher, wandering alone across the veld, reading strata like sentences. Like Michael, she will stitch threads between the stars.
The next morning, Elizabeth does not come down for breakfast. When William Booysen walks past the dining-room window on his way to the gardens at the back, thankful for the rain they received overnight, she is nowhere amongst the roses and starched tablecloths. It is only when Magrietjie goes to call on her a few hours later with a tray of tea that her body is found, wrapped up in the bedclothes, her open eyes turned to the veld forever. The tray is flung down on the bedside table, scattering pens and ink, candle stubs and paper.
For the next hour, various people will run in and out of the room. Walter Barry McClintock, the village physician, will be interrupted halfway through his morning grapefruit by a frantic nurse. The writer’s pulse will be checked several times, ears will be placed against her mouth, names will be called out down the corridors. But none of them will see the words the tray covers:
Michael stands at the edge of the world and looks up into the eternal stars. He begins stitching the silver threads between them.
- David Ralph Viviers is a Cape Town-based writer and film and theatre actor. He holds a BA in Theatre and Performance, as well as a master’s degree in Creative Writing, both with distinction, from the University of Cape Town. In 2016, he was the recipient of the Brett Goldin Bursary award, which allowed him to study with the Royal Shakespeare Company for a month in Stratford-upon-Avon. He won a Fleur du Cap Award in 2020.
Out here, the past and the future lie over each other, like the strata of koppies. And in certain places the boundary between the two rubs clean.
A century-old trunk has been dug up near the railway village of Sterfontein. Inside is the lost journal of Victorian author Elizabeth Tenant—and what appear to be the remains of a child.
Michael, a university student recovering from a broken heart, is intrigued by what the journal describes: a scarlet curtain billowing above the desert, covering the entrance to another world. But things become even stranger when a line in the journal seems to be connected to Michael and his cosmologist mother, written a hundred years before their time.
Without much to go on, Michael travels to the old Karoo hotel where Elizabeth wrote her novel Mirage. Amid talk of omens in the sky, ancient prophecies and the end of the world, he tries to decipher the journal’s secrets. As one mystery leads to the next, constellation-like patterns between his own life and Elizabeth’s appear, helped along by Renata, a self-proclaimed medium, and Oom Sarel, the local museum curator. But as time starts to dissolve in the mirages of the Karoo, it becomes more and more difficult to know what is real and what is not.
And why can’t he shake the feeling that he’s been to the village before?