The Promise, by Damon Galgut (Chatto 2021)

Neil's picture

This sensational novel deservedly won this year's Booker Prize. It is an incredibly powerful, intelligent, moving and resonant novel, set in South Africa over a 40 year period, starting just before apartheid ended. It follows a family of 3 children, dropping in on them roughly every 10 years on the occasion of a family funeral. The title refers to a promise made at the beginning of the book, by the matriarch just before her death, to reward the family's black housekeeper by giving her a house on their farm. This promise is never fulfilled by any of the family members, which provides the novel with its moral complexity and heart. The end is devastating. Although the novel is set in South Africa, it does have echoes and resonance with any family in any country. It's a remarkable piece of controlled writing, as the narrator is a kind of all-seeing eye, able to see into the thoughts of all the characters and their motivations and contradictions. A tremendous novel.