Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Review of 'A Question of Power' by Bessie Head

Review of 'A Question of Power' by Bessie Head

I'm officially into 2018 in my reviews now. I'm only a *couple* behind, so here we have it: the first book I completed this year. A Question of Power is a book that's now on a course I took at uni, and I really wanted to see why they chose it, how it was integrated, and how I felt about it in relation to other books on the course. Because, y'know, I miss studying. 

I found this book pretty heavy going. It's been a couple of months since I've read something that I would class as literary fiction, and it was honestly tough to get back into. A Question of Power is a story told in two parts. One part of the book is told by a narrator who knows what's going on. Elizabeth is a mixed race woman from South Africa who has recently moved to Botswana. In the day time she works first as a teacher and then in a communal garden growing food. But, ever so gradually, at night she begins to lose her mind. Elizabeth loses her grip on reality, and is plagued by three different presences: Sello, a monk, Medusa, an angry spirit, and Dan, a symbol of all that is bad. As we move through the book, the sane Elizabeth starts to lose hold of the narrative, and more and more of it becomes confused.

I found it so hard at times to keep track of where things where in the novel. It was hard to tell what was 'real' and what was a hallucination. But, I'm pretty sure that was part of the point: as Elizabeth became more confused, so did I. When she couldn't tell what was real and what wasn't, neither could I. 

I was absolutely fascinated by this tale of mental illness that was manifested as a real problem, not some kind of female hysteria. For a book published in 1973 it came across as genuinely progressive, and I definitely think it's a valuable read.

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