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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Restless Supermarket

Ivan Vladislavić

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To purchase The Restless Supermarket

Title: The Restless Supermarket
Author: Ivan Vladislavić
Genre: Novel
Written: 2001
Length: 298 pages
Availability: The Restless Supermarket - US
The Restless Supermarket - UK
The Restless Supermarket - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fine novel of a changing South Africa

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Independent A 16/4/2014 Neel Mukherjee
New Statesman . 15/1/2015 Hedley Twidle
Publishers Weekly . 31/3/2014 .
World Lit. Today . Winter/2002 Ingrid de Kok

  From the Reviews:
  • "The novel is also a masterpiece of voice, one that fits Tearle with miraculous perfection: pedantic; uptight; sneeringly undemocratic; periphrastic, sometimes; punning; sustainedly, outrageously witty. It is the wit of the cryptic crossword; of a wizard of words whose only deity is the OED. You will feel giddy reading this riot of a book, until you fall into the grip of sadness and pity at the end for, while elevating the effect of bathos to high art, Vladislavič has also deftly woven in pathos" - Neel Mukherjee, The Independent

  • "The result is a book that feeds some of the most complex and crucial years of South African history through an outdated word processor, an entirely unsuitable narrator" - Hedley Twidle, New Statesman

  • "Still, this smart book is at times hard to sit with because the joke is ultimately not on Teale, but on us, the readers. Vladislavic's sly prose forces us to recognize our own obsessions with language and class" - Publishers Weekly

  • "The Restless Supermarket is an intellectual and linguistic triumph, more intensely focused than the allusive earlier work. It decodes South Africa's political and social transition in the febrile period in the early nineties, when newly released political figures and unbanned liberation parties were negotiating with the apartheid government for a "settlement." (...) The novel itself is a pocket dictionary, a fertile field for close reading. Through the verdant use of hilarious linguistic and etymological jokes, puns, and colloquialisms, Vladislavic marks the relationship between language and landmarks, home and homelessness, and between the conventions of social life and the isolation of subjects." - Ingrid de Kok, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Restless Supermarket is narrated by Aubrey Tearle, a retired proofreader (of telephone directories, no less) -- though, as he notes: "one may retire from the post but not the profession". Indeed, he hasn't gotten correction out of his system: as someone complains: "You're always picking nits, Tearle", and a lot people don't understand why he has to make such a fuss.
       Tearle retired to Hillbrow, in Johannesburg, and now, in 1993, finds in the rapid transformation of South Africa much racing away from him (and from the standards he insists on): "Changing with the times is not for us", he understands. His haunt these past few years has been the Café Europa, a refuge where he has even made some friends -- but that is coming to an end, the Café Europa set to shut its doors by the end of the year; by the end of the book it is unrecognizable.
       Tearle recounts his time and adventures there (and the letters to editors and others he has written, admonishing them for their slips) over the years, as they count down to the bitter end. Obsessed with correction, Tearle also comes to work on 'The Proofreader's Derby', a text with mistakes woven in for the reader to find; it's framed as a test and then even a championship (complete with trophy for the winner) -- and forms a self-contained part of The Restless Supermarket, the second of its three parts. Tearle -- who proudly admits: "I hadn't read a novel in twenty years" -- fashions a proofreading-fiction here (featuring his alter ego, Fluxman), a last imaginative leap of a man who had always thought:

I had no wish to add to the great bloated mess of the given; I wished to take something away from it. To be not a contributor, but a subtractor.
       Tearle does occasionally have his doubts:
Has my whole life come down to a pile of papers, I asked myself, and those riddled with corrigenda ? Would I have to say, looking back, not 'It was all one big mistake,' but 'It was an endless succession of little mistakes' ?
       The Restless Supermarket takes its title from the local market that is open twenty-four hours a day. Tearle tries to convince them that they're misusing the term 'rest-less', but they don't seem bothered. But it's exactly the sort of thing that drives him nuts -- and, of course, he finds examples at every turn, and on every printed page he picks up.
       As he complains:
     Standards of proofreading have been declining steadily since the nineteen-sixties, when the permissive attitude to life first gained ground and so have standards of morality, conduct in public life, personal hygiene and medical care, the standard of living, and so on. All these are symptoms of a more general malaise. Decline with a capital D.
       Of course, Tearle's is a losing battle -- but one he can't help but fight.
       A clever take on the times in a changing South Africa, The Restless Supermarket is, unsurprisingly, word-obsessed, and Vladislavić has good fun with language throughout. There's a restlessness to the narrative too -- or a relentlessness, as Tearle only occasionally can move beyond his fixations; he -- and it -- can get to be a bit much. Still, it's an impressive and artfully constructed work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 March 2014

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The Restless Supermarket: Reviews: Ivan Vladislavić: Other books by Ivan Vladislavić under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books from and about Africa

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About the Author:

       South African author Ivan Vladislavić was born in 1957.

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© 2014-2021 the complete review

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