What the UJ judges said about Entanglement

University of Johannesburg Prizes Judge Craig MacKenzie Comments on Winning Books: Life Underwater and Entanglement

by Lindsay on Jul 2nd, 2013

EntanglementSteven Boykey Sidley takes the UJ Debut Prize for his riveting first novel Entanglement(Picador Africa, 2012). This thriller-cum-novel-of-ideas is set mainly in an unidentified part of the US, with a foray into London. In an interesting trend among emerging South African writers (Lauren Beukes and Amanda Coetzee are two other recent examples), Boykey Sidley eschews South African settings and themes entirely.

The novel opens and closes with addresses to graduating students by college professor Jared Borowitz. The first is arrogant and cynical, the second humble and heartfelt. What happens in between these two addresses is what changes Borowitz and utterly engrosses the reader.

The first catalyst to a change in Borowitz’s attitude is a visit to his dying mentor, an eminent scientist. The nature of the last encounter between the sage and his student is startlingly unexpected, and the younger man starts to have doubts about his settled views on life. But he needs something much more visceral and life-threatening to convince him that he doesn’t have all of the answers after all.

A little time later, Borowitz, now back in the States, heads into the country with his girlfriend and some friends for what is intended to be a rejuvenating and fun weekend. But his casual arrogance sets him on a collision course with a local forest-dweller at a nightclub in the nearby town, and events take a nightmarish turn for the worse.

Entanglement is a compelling, unputdownable novel, but it is much more than a thriller, and lingers long in the mind afterwards. It ranges over aesthetics, sex, philosophy, religion and science, among many other things, but always in a way that is fresh and vital. Boykey Sidley has the rare ability to deal with weighty matters in a deft and engaging manner. This makes Entanglement a very memorable debut.

Craig MacKenzie is Professor of English at the University of Johannesburg and a panellist on the UJ Prize. This article was first published in the Mail & Guardian.

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