Years of my life, sour with caffeine, had been sipped away in this room. A clock on the wallk stood silent and broken, the hands fixed for ever at ten to three. The only thing that had changed here since I arrived was the dartboard on the back of the door. I had brought it up from the recreation room one Sunday, hoping to while away some hours. But there are only so many times that you can throw a dart into a board before the ideas of an aim and a target begins to lose its point.
Never mind that a zen master would surely disagree, this paragraph is exemplary of Damon Galgut's writing - unusual verb choices as you might see in a poem: years in the first sentence are sipped rather than, say, passed. And we are invited to not only see and hear the scene, as usual, but also to taste its sourness. A clock's ticking is absent, but we are aware that it could be there if the clock worked. This is a place in which time has stopped, says Galgut. The hospital is a victim of politics.
'So that's it,' Laurence said suddenly. 'The other hospital. The one where everybody goes.'
I nodded heavily. 'That's it.'
'That's where all the funding's going, the equipment , the staff, all that?'
'Why? An accident of history. A few years ago there was a line on a map, somewhere around where we're sitting now. On one side was the homeland where everything was a token imitation. On the other side was the white dream, where all the money - '
'Yes, yes, I understand that,' he said impatiently. 'But the line on the map's gone now. So why aren't we the same as them?'
I shrugged. 'I don't know, Laurence. There isn't enough money to go round. They have to prioritize.'
Laurence's idealism begins to make the director of the hospital nervous:
'I have a feeling he was looking for a different kind of hospital,' she said. 'The set-up here - it's too low-key for someone like him.'
'I agree,' I said.
'Why don't you take him around, Frank? Show him the whole place. Let him see what he's in for. Then if he want to be transferred somewhere else, I'll see what I can do.'
'All right. No problem.'
'Of course he's welcome here. I'm not saying he isn't. The community service idea - I'm in favour. I'm all for innovation and change, you know that.'
'Oh, yes,' I said. 'I know.'
Innovation and change: it was one of her key phrases, a mantra she liked to repeat. But it was empty. Ruth Ngema would go to great lengths to avoid any innovaction of change, because who knew what might follow on?
The hospital in this book is a microcosm of its setting - South Africa - where, in the context of a post-apartheid government, life is waging a battle between idealism and cynicism every day. Thank goodness that that system is now history, but however seriously intended that change was habits, budgets, hearts and minds change more slowly. Galgut has accomplished no small feat in making a book about stasis active and interesting. The writing is at once lean and complex, it is almost poetic in word choice but unfrivolous in style. I hope to finish it today, it is a splendid read.
This link includes my other post on The Good Doctor.