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The Conservationist

3.39 of 5 stars 3.39  ·  rating details  ·  1,357 ratings  ·  135 reviews
The winner of the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature paints a fascinating portrait of a "conservationist" left only with the possibility of self-preservation, a subtle and detailed study of the forces and relationships that seethe in South Africa today.
Hardcover, First edition, 252 pages
Published October 31st 1974 by Jonathan Cape (first published 1974)
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Do not let the sea of 3-stars fool you into decrying the unpleasantness or the apparent plotlessness of this novel.
Not all of us read for pleasure after all. Besides it is an achievement of extraordinary proportions when an author manages to stretch the 'show don't tell' narrative device almost to the breaking point yet never failing to accentuate the core themes so realistically.

Nadine Gordimer puts her reader in a trance-like state with her hypnotic, lyrical descriptions of minutiae in an un
-Why not just buy it and leave it as it is?...
If I had your money I'd buy it and leave it just as it is.-
-No farm is beautiful unless it's productive.-
-You hear these things and believe them because they sound 'right'. That's your morality.-
The flirtatious sneer in her voice unexpectedly gave him an erection. (Even then perhaps? ...the beginning of these - inappropriate - reactions now, being pecked on the cheek by some child he's known since she was in napkins.)
-And what's yours my dear? You're
If you've read Mantel's Wolf Hall, you know there's a bit of adjustment at first once you realize "he" almost always refers to Cromwell because you're inside his head. Such is the case here, though the reader is granted a reprieve now and then when an omniscient voice takes over in some chapters. I say reprieve because it's tough being in Mehring's head and I felt relief when he engaged in dialogue (not that often) with someone other than himself.

Inside his head, the reader also needs to determi
I am ambivalent about this book.

On the one hand, it had some brilliant parts. The overall themes of apartheid are incredibly subtle but powerful. Many of the passages are very poetic and evocative. At the end I could honestly say that I felt I'd been through a good experience. She does a great job showing the awkward relationship between Mehring and his black workers. The dead man found at the beginning haunts the rest of the novel--and it works brilliantly.

On the other hand, most of the time I
This is the kind of book that college professors love to assign to their undergrads. Similar to Carlos Fuentes' The Death of Artemio Cruz , in which Artemio's life and death serve as metaphors for the historic arc of the Mexican Revolution and the corrupt PRI party it spawned, the anti-hero of The Conservationist is Gordimer's metaphor for a South Africa apartheid system that is impossible to conserve despite the wishes of its White population.

In fact, I'm sure there is some college undergrad o
This is a novel to admire, to tremble in sheer awe at the power of Gordimer's language, her mastery of sensuality, and the importance of its themes: the skewering of apartheid during a time when the anti-apartheid movement floundered, leaderless and without much will (early-mid 1970s). It is a tough novel to love. I felt alienated by the dense language and the stream-of-consciousness writing and frustration at being trapped inside Mehring's morally bankrupt brain. Which of course is the paradox ...more
Someone in my book club said of this novel that it makes you feel dumber while you're reading it but smarter once you've finished. I just found that to be really spot-on. No doubt, this is a difficult read, both in style (long, rambling sentences, extended stream-of-consciousness passages, non-English words scattered throughout) and in substance (it's about apartheid, and also, not much actually happens). The best way I found to describe it is that it's like an impressionist painting -- when you ...more
More like a 9/10. Gordimer writes brilliantly and I always find her subject matter interesting. This book about South Africa, as usual, might seem a tiny bit dated, as it was written, I believe, between 1972-74, but it captures the agonies of the time from the perspective of a somewhat clueless, but mostly well=meaning, middle-aged white man.
I read The Conservationist in a kind of appalled fascination, repelled by the language South African Whites use to talk to and about the Blacks in the book. Nadine Gordimer, the Nobel Prize winning author of this Booker Prize winning story, depicts her characters routinely using the language of master and servant in the most disparaging way, a kind of amused contempt exacerbated by its casual delivery. Reading it, one feels besmirched simply by being privy to the perspective of its White anti-he ...more
I finished this while in hospital recently.

There's something going on, and you don't know what it is, do you Mr Mehring? Mehring farms tax breaks for fun in the High Veld. He doesn't need it to make a profit; it would defeat the object if it did and anyway he's already a rich man from his status as a pig-iron magnate. But his world is falling apart in some vague way. His wife has left him and gone to New York, his son who has funny ideas about overturning the natural order has gone to join her,
Jayne Charles
I really struggled with this. It needs to be read slowly, analysed line by line to tease out the meaning, and I really tried to stay with it but in end the current pulled me under.

It's a tale of farming in South Africa, of pig iron, of differing standards of living and of questionable goings-on under aircraft blankets. Told in a series of random though patterns that's only just this side of James Joyce, it's difficult to work out what is happening at any given time, who is talking and who they
When you write from a divided home, it is inevitable that the divide manifests itself in your writing. Writers from South Africa, I suppose, therefore feel compelled to return to apartheid in some form- either in Coetzee's Disgrace or in Gordimer's 'The Conservationist'.

In fact, Conservationist did remind me terribly of the other. The white man with a loosely strewn together life, a farm with black workers, the divide and the mutual acceptance across the divide.

The book primarily consists of sel
Alex Rendall
The 1974 Booker Prize was the first to be awarded to two novels jointly; Nadine Gordimer’s The Conservationist is the first of the two that I have read. The novel’s title is interesting, in that Mehring, Gordimer’s white South African farm owner protagonist, would almost certainly not consider himself to be a conservationist, in the environmental sense. At times boorish and misogynistic, Mehring is absolutely opposed to any changes in the status quo of apartheid South African political organisat ...more
Mostly follows the interior monologue of Mr. Mehring, a wealthy white colonial industrialist in South Africa, who has bought a farm 25 miles from his city apartment. His farm is managed by a group of extremely poor indigenous Blacks lead by Jacobus, who all seem to have infinite patience. Mehring's life is so removed from them he barely empathizes with them. And he has grown distant from the members of his own class who spend their spare time partying and trying to fix him up with single eligibl ...more
José Toledo
The Conservationist is Nadine Gordimer's most intense, and certainly most poetic, novel. Its meticulous details and documentary exactitude combine to create an elaborate web of meanings where each object detailed or evoked carries symbolic implications for the society that South Africa was at the time of the novel's publication, and which forty years later still resonate with moral relevance. It is this same elaborate style which also avoids explanations and leaves the reader free to interpret. ...more
T. Edmund
For for first time in a while I let expectation get the better of me. I was to read this piece for book club, and was finding it hard to track down, everywhere I went said they didn't have a copy but that the book was amazing.

So eventually when I found it there was quite a bit of anticipation...

Unfortunately my enjoyment fizzled, I really got into the story in the first few pages, then found myself getting lost in the lengthy passages. Conservationist was one of those books that made me feel dul
To quote Homer Simpson as he watched Twin Peaks:

“Brilliant. I have no idea what's going on.”

The Conservationist is a much, much less straightforward book than July's People, and at times is this just totally weird stream of consciousness, the sort of thing that could alienate a lot of readers. I was enthralled, absolutely enthralled. There's a dead body, the politics of apartheid, and wave after wave of inclement weather and societal malaise. Gordimer comes off almost as this Eastern European or
A subtly menacing tale of an unaware bigot and exploiter. As much as he talks about his money, his life seems tacky, tattered and random, like the hand-me-down farmhouse he never bothers to redecorate or fully inhabit. Money brings him no joy but is his only bridge to others. His industrial position allows him to view himself as all generous and benevolent rather than what he really is, the stingy user of people as objects. People rarely register except for what they can do for him. Prefers wome ...more
It has been several years since I read this novel, and what sticks in my memory vividly is the portrait Gordimer creates of a self-satisfied, white property-owner in apartheid-era South Africa. We see the world through his eyes, and we see how well it serves him, keeping him wealthy and comfortable. While he may notice that some suffer and are oppressed, he is not moved to do anything that would make a difference for them. Instead, he justifies his indifference with a sense of racial and class s ...more
David Seruyange
It's not often that I put a book down but unfortunately The Conservationist got the better of me. I used to travel a lot and if I'd have been on a few flights with layovers and sufficient amounts of coffee I would have worked my way to the finish but as the kind of book from which to grow in a personal way while enjoying oneself it fell flat.

Gordimer writes from a very particular niche, a white South African woman who was able to allow the subtleties of her story to reveal some insights into li
Moira Downey
Oh my God. Where to start.

I should maybe read this again, because I probably missed half of the political content I was supposed to be gleaning from this frustrating, overwritten, exhausting hell of a novel. Unfortunately, every time I'd sit down to read it, my mind would start wandering. I'm still not entirely sure anything actually happens in this book; Gordimer seems to have deployed every stylistic trick imaginable at the expense of plot. Every time she builds up some kind of dramatic tensio
Courtney H.
The Conservationist is perhaps the subtlest Booker I’ve read thus far, and this is saying something; subtle storytelling seems to be a particularly admirable trait in the eyes of the Booker committees. In many ways, the real story of The Conservationist takes place around the edges of Mehring’s story – just as he tries to control the land but finds it growing apart from him and away from him, he can’t quite control his own story. He is never the true story, even of his own narrative. Apartheid ...more
There were several reasons I was eager to read this book. The first was simply the fact that many people seem to hate it. That made me curious. Partly, it's because I have a bizarre competitive streak that manifests in the strangest ways; partly because I wanted the challenge. I’m a very smart man but the only way I’ll ever get any smarter is through things that challenge me in new ways. So when lots of people say that this book made them feel dumb, well – I had to see what it was all about.

I wa
The Conservationist is set in South Africa under apartheid. Though it is written in the third person and occasionally provides insight into other characters' thoughts and experiences, perspective is largely limited to Mehring, a rich, white, middle-aged businessman. He is a loner who lives and works in the city but owns a large piece of farm land, which is inhabited and run by a group of poor black families and their various associates. Mehring is not a likeable host for the story; he is abusive ...more
Rick Patterson
This is what a Nobel Prize winner reads like. Gordimer doesn't run off at the mouth into poetic culs-de-sac like some Booker winners have done in the past, but she paints beautiful pictures that make you fall a little bit in love with a land that you have (probably) never seen. Although Mehring is not a comfortable protagonist--he is not a people person and at one point chants "My possessions are enough for me" (or something to that effect), which could make him a materialist caricature--by the ...more
Although I admire Nadine Cordimer immensely, I found this book very difficult to read. I do agree with some other reviews that this is the kind of book to be assigned to a class to read and discuss because there are so many discussions to be had. The first discussion would be about the main character, who as an extremely successful businessman who conducts his business all around the world, he buys a farm in South Africa, not only as an investment, but as a topic to talk about with his friends, ...more
Ben Dutton
Nadine Gordimer is a South African writer of considerable power, who received the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature. At her very best, her writing has true universal power whilst very specifically being located in the landscape of her South African home. The Conservationist, her 1974 novel, is such an example, though not without its flaws.

Mehring is a landowner. He has bought his farm for tax purposes, and travels from the city – where he works – to the farm only on weekends. During the week, his f
Martin Genet
The Conservationist is a challenging but thought provoking novel. The stream of consciousness style, the lack of quotation marks and the non-linear narrative make the book particularly challenging. However the book is full of metaphorical language alluding to the apartheid era, the land, colonialism and the injustices of white oppression.

Then numerous references to eggs, nest and nesting are motifs that symbolize rebirth, the motherland and the deep natural relationship man has with his countr
By South African Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer, who writes beautifully and disturbingly about the land and people of South Africa. This novel, written and set in the 1970's under apartheid, is about a rich businessman, the farm he buys as a tax write-off and weekend retreat, and the uneasy relationships among the Africans, Boers, English and Indians who live on the land. It's challenging to read, a book to respect more than enjoy, but worth the effort.
This book was loved by the critics, winning the Booker Prize in 1974 and later nominated as being among the very best of the Booker Prize winners. Ms. Gordimer is a Nobel Laureate, writing about post colonial South Africa. This book is not a page turner, and the writing style is stream of consciousness. The narrative stream often jumps from character to character and time frame to time frame. You have to keep reading to figure out the context. Plus there is a kind of detachment from the events t ...more
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Nadine Gordimer was a South African writer, political activist and recipient of the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature. She was recognized as a woman "who through her magnificent epic writing has – in the words of Alfred Nobel – been of very great benefit to humanity".

Gordimer's writing dealt with moral and racial issues, particularly apartheid in South Africa. Under that regime, works such as Burger'
More about Nadine Gordimer...
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