Sleeper's Wake

It is easier to cancel a life than a gym membership. This is one of many cruel lessons learned by the 46-year-old writer John Wraith, who wakes in hospital to be given the news that his wife and daughter have died in a car accident. Racked with pain, he is at first numbed, but his emotional hurt later rushes out in moments of rage and remorse - he was driving the car. Even though he survives, his life is "atrophied". Recovering at his sister's chalet in Nature's Valley, a remote coastal region of South Africa, he meets a family traumatised by crime. Morgan examines their damaged psyches without flinching.

Nature is beautifully evoked here: Wraith's grief surrounds him "like a coral reef", and the wintry season is as harsh as anything human life has to offer - or take away. This deeply affecting debut novel, garlanded with praise from André Brink, has a voice distinctively its own, each sore word, uttered from the depths of mourning, earning its keep.

Sleeper's Wake,
Alistair Morgan
Granta Books, 208pp, £10.99

This article first appeared in the 31 August 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The next 100 years