Physics for Poets: Nick Darcy-Fox
A Review by Helge Janssen
Physics, distinguished from that of chemistry and biology includes: mechanics, heat, light and other radiation, sound, electricity, magnetism, and the structure of atoms.
Poet: a person possessing special powers of imagination or expression
This is an exceptionally well-written uncontrite and at times humour-filled tale of seemingly trite White South African life in the dying days of apartheid….into the crossover of the ‘new’ reality…where the relatively sudden adjustment of having to accept that the ‘swart gevaar’ was to be the New Government was as difficult to grasp as any interrupted dream might be. Set in Durban between 1988 and 1990 this is an earnest coming-of-age story of teenage angst as it negotiates a way through sex, drugs and alternative music.
And then a gap in this nightmare: ‘Faces’ nightclub….a fissure enough to affirm a vital perspective.
Relating events is Charl Forth (roughly fifteen in the earlier parts of the story) who is in the throes of realizing that things are not quite right in this land of Nod. Not to mention the omnipresent emotional dishonesty bred through political disinformation that is fostered hand in hand with contorted truth. This reality check is eventually highlighted with the release of Nelson Mandela causing disparate political undercurrents within relationships to become starker: life was indeed very dire hanging at this abyss-edge of total onslaught. One scenario: as Belinda (the girlfriend) and Charl boringly await the release of Mandela from prison (poor T.V. coverage) their dialogue reveals Belinda’s racism and growing sense of threat welling up as a need for sexual affirmation.
The narrative of ‘Physics for Poets’ interweaves subtle allegorical cross linkages and nuances of sexual current/oppressive heat/weather/human behaviour/political change perceptively and craftily within the backdrop of contortions within family life. As such this tale becomes a most poetically inventive, linguistically ingenious, politically left convolution of these problematic times. The over-all dynamic of the text – where sentences and imagery constantly clip-flip into place – gives a sense that Charl is dealing with the intricacies of a South African Rubik’s Cube.
A troubled youth attempting to find cognizance of life’s profound imports while being held in the travails of its ubiquitous cavernous insanity: apartheid – perversely in every nook, cranny, classroom and graveyard. Charl is not only trying to negotiate his way through matric, he also has to face his own demons.
The grim prospects of a warped education system….hell bent on indoctrination….robbing white South Africans of authenticity – is well captured. To not be sucked into the convention needed a cutting edge intelligence counter balanced by a willingness to live in the moment. But, as Syd Kitchen famously said: “South Africa is not for sissies” we realise it is for those who somehow manage to plumb some depth into their psyche honestly, that salvation is possible. This twist of cognizance comes as a calibre that cannot be earned lightly: a spiritual mettle that cuts through the silly double-speak and one-upmanship with deftness….while at the same time realising that the bigger picture is far more serious….if not just a pack of cards so easily collapsible. Charls’ anarchy therefore rests in his spontaneity and he emerges as the antihero not indifferent to the scores he settles (private and political) launching his broadsides with startling accuracy. As such the innate (poetic) mien of his nature is affirmed. He represents the LIFE apartheid tried so hard to quell. The crime (for those who are not aware) is that this is any person’s automatic birthright.
The language is sharp and the sentences bristle with inventiveness and perspicacity. The pace is measured and, as such, creates space for the undercurrent to surface. The situations unfold effortlessly yet surprisingly. I could not put the book down – until closing it with a broad smile on my face. A must read.
ps: the club ‘Faces’ referred to – and experienced – in the novel quite clearly is PLAY at the Community Arts Workshop in Walnut Road. This barn-like building stood next to what became Tilt Night Club and was demolished in 1989 to make way for the multi-story Bureau de Change.
Otherwise the kindle can be found here:
as well as the actual book here: