Craig Higginson has won the University of Johannesburg Prize for South African Writing in English for his haunting third novel The Dream House (Picador Africa).
The novel centres on an old farmhouse in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, whose aging owners are relocating to their family home in Durban – their farm is already in the process of being carved up into a lifestyle estate.
Patricia, the novel’s main character, looks back on a lifetime of failure and regret, principal among which was marrying the inept Richard, who now suffers from advancing dementia, but whose dark past becomes the source of alarming and unwelcome revelations.
Beauty and Bheki are the faithful retainers whose decades of interactions with their white employers have induced a habituated mode of interaction, but as the novel unfolds we see that their understanding of human relations is far more penetrating than that of their complacent employers.
They have seen even deeper into the dark side of life on the farm than the perceptive prodigy Looksmart. Looksmart was born and grew up on the farm, and was championed as a child by Patricia, who arranges with the local school principal for him to attend boarding school.
Looksmart soars to remarkable educational heights before a traumatic incident involving his childhood sweetheart renders him terminally disillusioned with life on the farm.