A classic novel of the South African transition and winner of the South African Sunday Times Prize for Fiction
It is 1993, and Aubrey Tearle’s world is shutting down. He has recently retired from a lifetime of proofreading telephone directories. His favourite neighbourhood haunt in Johannesburg, the Café Europa, is about to close its doors; the familiar old South Africa is already gone. Standards, he grumbles, are in decline, so bad-tempered, conservative Tearle embarks on a grandiose plan to enlighten his fellow citizens. The results are disastrous, hilarious and poignant.
A classic novel about the post-apartheid era, brimming with surprising perspectives, urban satire, riotous imagery and outrageous wordplay. Vladislavić’s tour de force was awarded the South African Sunday Times Fiction Prize.
- Ivan Vladislavić is the author of Double Negative (And Other Stories, 2013), shortlisted for the South African Sunday Times Fiction Prize 2011 and won the University of Johannesburg Creative Writing Prize 2010/11.
Praise for The Restless Supermarket
- ‘Vladislavič invests the subject with profound depth and inventiveness by focusing on a character who is resistant to history and is already petrifying in the tumultuous tides of his times. The novel is also a masterpiece of voice, one that fits Tearle with miraculous perfection: pedantic; uptight; sneeringly undemocratic; periphrastic, sometimes; punning; sustainedly, outrageously witty. It is the wit of the cryptic crossword; of a wizard of words whose only deity is the OED. You will feel giddy reading this riot of a book, until you fall into the grip of sadness and pity at the end for, while elevating the effect of bathos to high art, Vladislavič has also deftly woven in pathos … this novel is Vladislavič’s Pale Fire. A work of such immense imaginativeness, of such extraordinarily serious playfulness, comes along very rarely. Let us celebrate it.’ Neel Mukherjee, The Independent
- ‘From the collapse of the Berlin Wall to the release of Nelson Mandela, Vladislavic creates several funny moments that rely on recent history as a backdrop . . . Vladislavic’s sly prose forces us to recognize our own obsessions with language and class.’ Publishers Weekly
- ‘[A] book that feeds some of the most complex and crucial years of South African history through an outdated word processor, an entirely unsuitable narrator who clings to the sanctuary of the Café Europa … Behind a narrative patter that is by turns witty, sardonic and sad, we see Tearle bungle a love affair, estrange old friends and fail epically to understand the changing society that he is a reluctant part of … the result [is] a novel widely regarded as one of the major books of South Africa’s transition.’ Hedley Twidle, New Statesman
- ‘The Restless Supermarket, by Ivan Vladislavic (And Other Stories), is set in turn-of-the-regime South Africa and features an unknowing, unreliable, white, racist narrator, Aubrey Tearle. It can be read as Vladislavic’s homage to Nabokov’s Pale Fire and is as imaginatively wild, as brilliantly conceived and written.’ – Neel Mukherjeee, Books of the Year, The Irish Times
- ‘We are all tired of the reflective glances at apartheid: we all find the bits of guilt terribly tiresome: there is only so much angst and self-flagellation that a body can bear. And as a generality that is true, but I suggest instead that you avoid the generalities and pick up Vladislavic’s book. The latest wonder of our age is 3D printing. That is an invention of genius, I am sure: this is 3D writing … This is no bustling, new South Africa, post-apartheid statement, but an observation, perhaps, on modern Johannesburg. A sophisticated and complex work, rather different from the normal, but well worth the time.’ David Dixon, The Journal Online
- ‘There are plenty of books in which authors look back at how things in their homeland used to be. Llosa pulled this off (and eventually won a Nobel Prize), W. G. Sebald did it masterfully (and criminally didn’t win a Nobel Prize), and today we have writers like Teju Cole revisiting Lagos in his fiction, Aleksandar Hemon going back to Bosnia in his novels and essays, and Gary Shteyngart incorporating his native land, Russia, into most of his stories. All of these places have known — and in many cases, still know — great strife, and exploring how characters deal with home countries in flux tends to make for great stories. With The Restless Supermarket, South African author Ivan Vladislavić (who Cole has praised as “amazing”) adds another book to that list, giving us a post-apartheid Archie Bunker in Aubrey Tearle, who sees things changing and can’t really get on board with that.’ Jason Diamond, Flavorwire Book of the Week
- ‘The first-person narrator is a retired proofreader who carries a dictionary in his pocket, and his obsessive recording of linguistic oddities that offend his sense of correctness … is both an astute way of tracking the social change that is happening around him, that he has no means of resisting, and deeply funny. He also happens to be a pompous git, and part of the pleasure of the book is how Vladislavić lures readers who love wordplay into sympathy and then brings them up short.’ Charles Boyle, The Warwick Review
- ‘Indeed, part of the achievement of The Restless Supermarket is the way in which it manages to humanize an objectionable narrator and render his odious views partially explicable without in any way excusing them. In this, it is a triumph of precisely the sort of sympathetic imagination of which apartheid seemingly stripped its subjects, and of which Tearle himself is almost entirely bereft.’ Danny Byrne, Music & Literature
- ‘It is by placing South Africa’s political troubles into the mind of a character like Tearle that Vladislavić has provided a novel, personal insight into a massive social change. It’s the kind of work that speaks to far more than just Johannesburg or South Africa; it’s a novel that holds interest for the international audience it is now being brought to.’ Book Slut
- ‘The Restless Supermarket is a haunting portrait of urban decay but also a poignant depiction of a changing world from the bewildered perspective of one who has, to some extent, been left behind.’ Rebecca Roulliard, Writers’ Hub
- ‘What an extraordinary novel … I recently reviewed Double Negative, by the same author … It did not prepare me for the laugh out loud quality of The Restless Supermarket … As a lover of words and unashamed pedant, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. My vocabulary has been very much enhanced as a result – indeed I cannot remember my Complete OED being consulted so much in such a short space of time. Tearle is both morally upright and faintly ridiculous, in a Tom Sharpe sort of way. His supporting characters are gently engaging, and nicely eccentric. This is probably my book of the year.’ David Dickson, The Journal
- ‘Like a post-apartheid Archie Bunker, Vladislavic’s novel that takes place in the days leading up to Nelson Mandela’s election is funny only because it’s so sad to watch a person so stuck in their ways who are unable to accept change.’ Jason Diamond, Volume1Brooklyn.com - Books of the Year 2014
Further Praise for writing by Ivan Vladislavić
- ‘Vladislavić’s narrative intelligence [is] nowhere more visible than in his way with language itself. Each section is perfectly judged; we enter incidents in medias res – as though they were piano études – and exit them before we have overstayed our welcome.’ Teju Cole
- ‘A rare, brilliant writer. Vladislavić’s work eschews all cant. Its sheer verve distinguishes it.’ Sunday Times (SA)
- ‘One of the most imaginative minds at work in South African literature today.’ André Brink
- ‘Vladislavić seeks the poetry of the city he has known and loved for 30 years … He finds the human behind Johannesburg’s sorry reputation.’ Ross Leckie, The Times (SA)