Arctic Summer by Damon Galgut

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Damon Galgut, the South African writer has proven he is a writer of quality with books such as The Good Doctor and In a Strange Room. But reading Damon Galgut’s Arctic Summer is not like reading another brilliant piece of fiction; instead we are presented with a much more specific, fictional biography of E. M. Forster. The narration is so convincing that we temporarily forget that this is Galgut’s imagined and creative mind for Forster. Conducting extensive research and reading around the life and written descriptions of Forster, Galgut has brought together a story that goes some way to explain why it took E. M. Forster X years to complete his successful A Passage to India.

It’s a story that touches on many of the key aspects of the character that is Edward Morgan Forster: a white middle-class Englishman who is a repressed homosexual and what this entails during his travels in India and Alexandria. Two central romantic relationships: first with the nobleman Syed Ross Masood in India and secondly during the First World War with the tram-conductor Mohammed el-Adl in Egypt have a profound effect upon Forster’s sexual identity as well as his writing.

Forster in the novel is longing for genuine sexual intimacy with another man and whilst we may think it would be on a level footing, Galgut’s Forster fantasises about sexual violence and enjoys briefly (before feelings of self-disgust come in) the power he has over the local barber. Galgut makes the sexual political, to quote his Forster: he felt it with ‘all the force of the Empire.’

In Galgut’s colourful and rich portrayal of Forster, there are moments of touching sentiment and poignancy that make for an impressive imaginative account of the life of one of our most prominent writers, who despite his personal struggles, was always destined to be a writer. This makes Arctic Summer a rather self-reflexive novel showing there are just some books that write themselves.

Arctic Summer by Damon Galgut is published by Atlantic Books, 2014.

By Heather Wells