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Book review: The Promise by Damon Galgut

I was attracted to The Promise after hearing positive reviews of it following its Booker win.

The Promise is set in South Africa and centres on a white family, and a promise made to their black housekeeper.

While one family members is supportive of the promise, not all are inclined to honour the commitment their father made to his dying wife.

Surrounding this thread, the life of each family member goes separately, until a shocking act of violence brings them back together. Somehow, this act isn’t really at the centre of the novel. It happens and is a conduit for the family members to gather, yet it isn’t really as pivotal as I would have thought.

I was shocked for a moment, and then my attention turned to other aspects of the family life, including the promise.

And perhaps that was what Galgut wanted. His emphasis was not on the brutal act of violence, but the long, drawn out betrayal at the heart of the story.

Ultimately, The Promise is a book about race, family and power, and the impact of betrayal on the relationships between family or household members.

While it was a meaningful book, even while I was reading it, I had a suspicion that this was not a book that will stay in my memory – and that says more about my own inability to remember most books than about the quality of this one.

In many ways, it was reminiscent of other books that I have read, and I’m not sure that I would recommend it to others.

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