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The Conservationist

3.36  ·  Rating details ·  2,508 ratings  ·  274 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.
Audiobook, 6 pages
Published August 29th 2009 by Blackstone Audiobooks (first published 1974)
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Average rating 3.36  · 
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Federico DN
Nov 30, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Money doesn't buy happiness, and happiness doesn't buy safety.

During the South Africa's apartheid period, "Mehring" is one of many white business men, industrialist, powerful, very wealthy. In a sudden lordship impulse he acquires a country house, to escape the city on weekends. His life revolves around the job and the coming and goings to the country house. A great empty house, an incipient harvest, the people working the land, an estranged ex-wife, an alienated son, business, lovers. And the c
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
A good story, competently told, can’t be faulted. But ‘good’ is sometimes not enough. We might want more than that. We might want a story to carry an impact, not only on us but also on its own subject matter, the time it was set in, the land it describes, the politics of that time.
The Conservationist carries such an impact. It hits us in the soft part of our bodies beneath the sternum, winding us, leaving us doubled in two, coughing and gasping. And it hits us early and often. There is no let-u
Aug 30, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
-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
Julie Christine
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
This a book that should be mandatory reading for anyone with even a passing interest in social justice.

I get it, that's a big claim, but I have a feeling that when bell hooks coined the phrase "white supremacist, capitalist, patriarch" she had people like Mehring in mind. Gordimer skillfully delineates the borders of his privilege in this volume, speaking no nonsense and cutting straight to the meat of the issue. And while Apartheid is dead, racial segregation is a thing of the past, and questi
Inderjit Sanghera
May 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading like a series of impressions, the disjointed narrative style is counterbalanced by the ethereal imagery which Gordimer conjures up; whether it be the stifling, suffocating South African heat or the rambunctious river torrents, Gordimer conjures up a South Africa which appears to be spiralling towards violence, a South Africa seen mainly through the eyes of Mehring; an empty vessel of a man whose inner self is nothing more than a hodge-podge of greed and venality, a man who seems to be pe ...more
David Sasaki
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
Jun 09, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1974
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
Sarah Curnow
Aug 20, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I MADE myself keep reading this despite not particularly enjoying it and finding it frustration. There is a review on Amazon which summed it up for me "I read every boring word on every boring page of this boring, boring book - and only because my mission is to read every Booker prize winner. Otherwise, I would have hurled this book into the bin after twenty pages. NOTHING HAPPENS, except a tedious interior monologue from someone about whom you constantly think 'who cares?' To add insult to inju ...more
Nov 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting story about a millionaire South African who buys a 400 acre farm near Johannesburg in the apartheid era. The main character made his money in the mineral world and is bit like a duck out of water. Splitting his time between his flat in the city and the farm.

Mehring visits the farm as a way to escape from his stressful life. However, one day he finds a dead man on his farm, there is no investigation by the police and he is who is buried without fanfare. This whole experience begin
Apr 03, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Set in South Africa just before the anti-Apartheid uprising, this novel of one English speaking white man is symbolic of the inevitable collapse of this unjust system. This is a smart book, brilliant dialogue, impressionistic descriptions, strong prose, a book that respects the intelligence of the reader. This is one of those books that I can appreciate while not enjoying. For the protagonist, women are for his sexual desires, blacks are for his service, creation is for his pleasure, wealth is f ...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
Alex Rendall
Apr 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: booker-prize
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
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,
Jun 14, 2018 marked it as unfinished  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: booker-winners
I got to page 44 out of 267. Alas, I’m 0 for 2 on South African Booker Prize winners; I also tried J.M. Coetzee’s Life & Times of Michael K, hoping to write up one or more of them before the Booker Prize 50th anniversary celebrations. Nice landscape descriptions, but despite the discovery of a body there’s absolutely no narrative momentum, and one doesn’t warm to Mehring at all. My favorite passage, with the ironically apt adjectives noted in bold, was “The upland serenity of high altitude, the ...more
Sep 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Nov 17, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Apr 21, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
3.5 stars.

1970s South Africa. Mehring is a rich, white industrialist and it is his perspective we are privy to in this novel. He bought a farm out in the country because that’s what rich people do, and it offers him tax benefits. He perceives himself to be someone who has worked hard to get where he is, who puts his sweat and effort into the running of the farm, but his character is slowly revealed to us through flashbacks and moments.

Really, he is just someone who has come off ‘lucky’ on the o
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
Rick Patterson
Jan 06, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Feb 22, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My desultory tour of the Booker prize reaches 1974 and South Africa. This book tells the story of a successful white businessman who buys a farm but gradually sees any attempt to find meaning there fail. Well-written and enjoyable in places, but overall rather bleak and hopeless.
3.5 stars. An interesting, impressionist, clever, insightful, character based, tough read about Mehring, a rich white South African who buys a 400 acre farm 25 miles from his city business and apartment in the 1970s. Mehring thinks he is a reasonable, likeable man, but he doesn’t have any close friends. His wife left him and is living overseas. He doesn’t get on with his 17 year old son, Terry. Mehring only visits his farm occasionally, leaving the management of the farm to Jacobus, a black Sout ...more
Aug 30, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
After finishing this, I looked at some of the positive reviews of the book and sensed a sort of self-satisfaction in their “getting it” as well as berating those who didn’t like it, like some schoolmaster yelling at his students, “Focus, focus, ye lazy bastards!!!” To those persons, I extend my tongue and deliver a hearty raspberry. The Guardian described this book as “great writing, not brilliant reading,” which I think comes a bit closer to the problem here. This was written from a context of ...more
Apr 16, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Courtney H.
Mar 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookers
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
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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

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