Literary Postmortem: The Reactive

My excitement and expectations going into this book were quite high and I must say I was not disappointed at all. This debut novel by Masande Ntshanga, is one of the best things I have read in a long time. He is a young, black writer from the Eastern Cape aka everything I want to be one day (save for being from the Eastern Cape).

Anyway so late last year I attended an event where he read an extract from the book and I knew then that I had to read the book. He writes in a way that demands you to carry on reading. If you plan on reading the book and want to be surprised don’t read this – there will be spoilers.


So I mentioned the high expectations – shattered not long after I had settled into this read. I expected to read about his younger brother, Luthando dying at an initiation school and the guilt his older brother, Lindanathi felt over his compliancy in that. That’s actually why I was so interested in the story to begin with. It’s a horrible thing that happens to young boys out in rural areas in our winter. Luthando’s death is always lingering throughout the book but I still felt I needed to know more about his death.

Initially I thought the immense guilt the protagonist (Lindanathi) feels throughout the book irrational because you know things happen, right? But then the more I read about his drug induced hazy days in Cape Town with his two friends Ruan and Cecelia, the less empathy I felt.

They did drugs. Often. A lot of drugs. Often. It scared me. Scared me because it just happens so easily, they are at the point where it’s routine, they need the drugs to peel themselves off Cecelia’s apartment floor. It also scared me because Ntshanga writes about the drug use/dependency with far too much accuracy to not be drawing from personal experience (or so I think). There’s also quite a bit of kinky bordering on messed up sex, group sex with masculine porn endings *purses lips*.

But anyway in a nutshell, these three are drugged up all the time and sell pharmaceutical drugs (ARVs) on the side – they lead a life that looked like absolute chaos to me. But there are reasons for why they are the way they are, some which we don’t really get to learn about. Personally, Lindanathi making himself reactive was the most chilling for me. There’s a lot of ambiguity in the book, shielded by absolutely beautiful imagery and sentences. I can’t recall how many times I had to stop reading to re-read and mull over the perfect sentences.

To me, Lindanathi redeems himself towards the end of the book when he decides to stop running from his problems and avoiding his family. He goes back to do the thing he promised his brother he would do with him. He decides for a change to look his life in the face and show up. Then we meet Esona, ah I would have loved to have one more chapter for their story – she sounds like the thing he has needed for a long time.

The way the book ends is comforting, still sad (yes, I cried) but it feels like things happen as they should. It really was a brilliant read, it felt extremely honest, therefore heartbreaking but also so necessary.

I am just a girl with a blog who read a book but I would definitely recommend The Reactive.

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