Few novelists have probed so honestly and deeply into the uneasy confusion of the South African scene as David Lytton. The central character of his powerful new book is Grevil Marais, who works in a Cape Town office and lives in a bungalow a few miles outside, a sophisticated but typically bewildered and angry white liberal. When we meet him he is on his own because his wife Ginny, the spoilt daughter of a rich family, has taken their daughter Jill to England for an operation. It is a relief: Grevil and Ginny, with their widely differing viewpoints, have long been drifting apart.
These new circumstances have a profoundly disturbing effect on Grevil. He at once develops a sexual obsession, almost comic in its solemnity, for his Malay servant Tina. He is made painfully aware of the pressures that lie outside the bungalow by a series of mysterious 'patriotic' messages and threats, culminating in attentions from the Special Branch. Lust and insecurity combine to fill the vacuum of his isolation and he plunges into a debauch of the flesh and spirit, during which he feels an increasing alienation from his own family and kind. Gradually, however, he begins to hear a still, small voice, in whose existence he had not previously believed, which leads him out of the desert represented by a corrupt society and his own incomplete self.
The account of this dark night of the soul is in the form of Grevil Marais' journal, a black comedy about white men and women unnaturally excited by the depravity of their environment.