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Damon Galgut’s Arctic Summer Launched with Ross Devenish at The Book Lounge

Damon Galgut

Cape Town’s The Book Lounge was once again packed to capacity with eager readers clamouring to hear about Arctic Summer, the latest publication from award-winning novelist Damon Galgut.

The book is an imaginative exploration of the life and oeuvre of EM Forster. It is a work that defies conventional literary genres, speaking as it does to the facts behind A Passage to India and Forster’s unpublished work “Arctic Summer”, from which Galgut’s novel gets its name.

Ross Devenish and Damon GalgutArctic SummerOwner of The Book Lounge Mervyn Sloman shared a remarkable email from Sandra Barnard, Galgut’s Standard 1 teacher at Brooklyn Primary in 1972. She recalled the lengthy stories he’d written as a small boy with big brown eyes, and her prediction that he would one day be a famous writer. Sloman described Arctic Summer as “a complete triumph” that captured a sense of time, place and character, and the intersections between the three.

Galgut was joined by award-winning filmmaker Ross Devenish in a fascinating conversation about the “novelisation” of a life. Devenish reflected on the films that had been made about Forster, and the oblique angle this created to begin exploring an extraordinary man: “Damon has helped us pull that enigma apart. Some of the basic facts about this man are extraordinary. He wrote books about marriage, but was never married. He wrote a gay novel before he’d ever had a sexual experience – which only happened when he was 37!”

Galgut said it was not an excessive love of Forster that drove him to write the book, but rather an interest in the man, adding that the title of Forster’s “Arctic Summer”, which was started before he wrote A Passage to India, represented an image of his life: “The fact that in his intimate life he hardly lived at all. It was a frozen landscape. There was nothing. The loss of virginity at 37. Most of his relationships were unfulfilled yearnings.” The link between this and the author’s creative life was what inspired Galgut’s interest in his subject, and he believes as a fragment the unfinished book is not particularly significant. Rather, his interest was in the way Forster’s unfulfilled emotional existence fuelled his substantial creativity.

“The ‘summer’ part of it is important,” Galgut said. “It’s easy to caricature Forster as somebody that was unhappy. For all the unhappiness, Forster wasn’t an unhappy man. Everybody who writes about him remarks on how much fun he had. He lived in other ways, substituting friendship for intimacy. Friendship took him a long way!”

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Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) tweeted from the launch using #livebooks:

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