It is fitting—if not inevitable—that Nobel Prize winner Gordimer should write novels that conflate the personal and the political. In her generation of South Africans, no family has been untouched by the tumultuous struggle for democracy.
Get a Life is set in the post-apartheid period, yet the Bannerman family strains under its conflicting commitments to the wider world. Paul, a passionate environmentalist, questions the values of his wife, Benni, a successful ad executive. His mother, Lyndsay, a civil rights attorney appointed to the bench, misjudges the sacrifice her husband, Adrian, made when he put aside his passion for archeology to become a businessman. When Paul is diagnosed with thyroid cancer, one marriage breaks down; the other strengthens. The book's bouts of introspection can become ponderous—as when Lyndsay, musing on a past affair, invokes Simone de Beauvoir's concept of "contingent loves"—but so are the issues Gordimer's characters bring home to dinner.