The road to revenge and the moral debris abandoned along the way
Talion ★★★★ Beyers de Vos, Penguin, R250
Beyers de Vos’s surreal crime novel
Talion defies genre, creating a tale of grief, vengeance, and storytelling, including how a city is a story in itself. De Vos explains: “Cities are like stories in that they are created — designed, planned, constructed and edited. They’re places that are being created in the minds of the people who live in them. It’s a psychological space as much as a physical space.”
This bloody thriller of vigilantism follows five characters: the murder victim and his twin sister, the teacher, the drug dealer and the detective. Not one of these damaged souls is precisely who they seem to be, and their ideas around justice are controversial yet understandable.
“The justice system as a concept, and justice as a personal experience are two very different things,” De Vos says. “What happens when the system fails you? And can the emotional and psychological experience of justice be reconciled with what the system offers?”
The novel was sparked when De Vos’s father told him the story of a sister who sees her twin brother get murdered, and then begins stalking the murderer. He found her quest for justice compelling and
Talion is his way of exploring both the appeal and the consequences.
He says: “Vigilantism is often romanticised. The idea of the antihero as an embodiment of our collective sense of what is right and wrong and fair, despite what a failing system has to offer, is often attractive, even seductive. But is that really what vigilantism looks like? What does it feel like to the person experiencing it, and what do you have to go through to get to the point where you no longer care about yourself — only about getting revenge? Revenge isn’t an impulse — it’s a series of decisions in which you abandon moral judgment.”
This compelling page turner is also available in Afrikaans, entitled Wrok. De
Vos rewrote the story himself: “When you translate your own work, it’s not translation. It’s a negotiation between the original text and the translated text.” Regardless of which language you read it in, keep the lights on.