how long it took him to love his father, how long, a lifetime he worked at it … and how long hasn’t it taken him to process it all and to see eventually that this is a man acting in good faith
Neither can he separate from a man from whose principles, however much despised, he has benefited (p230):
the old-worldliness of his father, a value system he was handfed with, and which he later, on becoming fully human, began to despise so passionately. And yet it’s the constancy of that world that in an odd, almost repulsive way provided him with security
which Jack’s situation, from a yet more dysfunctional family, throws into sharp relief.
Despite their differences, father and son seem to find a new respect for each other in those final weeks. Matt realises (p86-87):
the aversion that he’s retained for the antagonist, the harm that man has done him, increasingly becomes a projection existing in his own head and nowhere else. He’s unable to associate it with the pale man in his sickbed
whereas Bennie writes the cheque that will make his son’s fantasised business a reality. Love seems to blossoming, Matt seems to be maturing and ready to forgive. But, of course, that is not where the story ends.
Wolf, Wolf is an unflinching account of an enmeshed father-son relationship defined by mutual yearning, envy and disgust. The slow pace (for example, there are several pages of Matt debating with himself as to whether he can ask his father for money) never drags, but shines a beam on the discomfort. It’s extremely visceral in the descriptions of a body withering away through illness and chemotherapy (including a rather nauseating toilet scene), as well as the porn addiction that threatens Mattie’s love life.
The parallels with a culture in decline are evident in a cameo appearance of the King of Swaziland, as well as in Matt’s relationship with his employee, a Congolese immigrant more knowing than he first appears. Especially vulnerable via their sexuality in a country in which gay women are raped in order to “cure” them, Matt and Jack seem ill-equipped to forge an updated Afrikaner identity.
Wolf, Wolf is translated by Michiel Heyens. Thanks to Scribe for my review copy of this mesmerising novel.