Shuttle to nowhere

<strong>Dog Eat Dog</strong>

Niq Mhlongo <em>Kwela Books, 234pp, £8.73</em>

Dingz Njomane shuttles between a comfortable student life in Johannesburg and the more chaotic environment of his family home in Soweto. He has never-ending run-ins with authority while trying to keep his place at the YMCA and avoid having to move back home. Along the way, he attempts to get a girlfriend, and his friends muse on the new South Africa.

Unfortunately for the reader, Mhlongo fails to make Dingz an involving enough character for us to care about his tribulations, even when they do provide the odd insightful vignette of life in the townships or the beginnings of South Africa’s Aids crisis. Similarly, Mhlongo’s efforts to give other characters space are few and far between, and are hamstrung by leaden dialogue (including several entire conversations that are reproduced, for no discernible reason, in English and Zulu).

Dog Eat Dog suffers most of all from a sense of aimlessness, with no narrative or tension of sufficient strength to hold the reader’s interest. The chapter where Dingz and his friends vote for the very first time is a perfect example; most of it is taken up with them scrutinising the tramps in front of them in the queue. Even though Mhlongo’s voice is not without its charm, it’s a pity that he hasn’t found much more to say with it.

This article first appeared in the 14 January 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Obama unmasked