The Raft by Fred Strydom #36_2015


This is a cracking good read. It has all the elements that keep the reader engaged; mystery, suspense, an epic journey in which the search for truth and justice has many obstacles. A Pilgrim’s Progress meets The Odyssey set in a future world. Do not shy away if you are one of those readers who avoid the speculative fiction genre; this is a treat.

Although it is set in South Africa, there is not much to identify the environment or the people as South African; apart from the odd bit of Afrikaans thrown in or allusions to South African towns. Everything changed on what is now referred to as Day Zero. Everyone’s memories are wiped clean at the same moment and confusion reigns. Kayle had been in his solar powered AV (auto-vehicle) when everything came to a grinding halt.

Many years later, Kayle Jenner is living in a tent on a beach near Betty’s Bay. Gideon is his closest friend, but it is difficult to make true friends when no-one remembers anything about who they were. They are virtually imprisoned and their every move is closely examined lest they deviate from the new thinking. A sect, the New Past, has arisen from the ashes of a world in which nothing operates as it once did. These people have documented their own philosophy in a book, The Age of Self Primary and everyone must adopt their doctrine. They call this time, The Renascence; the age of truth after the age of lies; families are “separated in the hopes of deterring tribal culture” and knowledge is seen as the root of evil.

Different characters tell Kyle their story, secretively, lest they be discovered. It becomes clear that some have memories and stories to tell that they know are not their own, yet they remember them as vividly as if they were. Through these false memories, different characters are introduced that crop up throughout the narrative in different places. Mineta remembers a strange man in the Tsitiskamma Forest; Jai-Li remembers the business empire, Huang Enterprises, her father once ran and the spaceship Chang’e 11 that disappeared for forty years.

Kyle has flashbacks to life before Day Zero once a few memories begin filtering back. He knows he had a wife, a son and a daughter but also knows that it is his son, Andy that he must find. He dreams about Andy, a recurring dream in which he climbs a tree up into the clouds. He is also often tormented in his dreams by a man called Jack Turning. He has no idea who this is. The back story of what happened to his family before Day Zero alternates with the present time.

Kayle and Gideon try and help Jai-Li escape. Their crime is discovered and they are sentenced to ‘separation by raft’. This punishment entails being tied naked to a raft at their wrists and ankles, being pumped full of hallucinogens and left there for three days with no food or water at the mercy of the elements. The raft is attached to the pier by a length of rope. He tries meditating but ‘wandering thoughts intruded upon the stillness of his mind like loud-mouthed heathens in a mountaintop temple”. Similes such as this abound and add richness to the writing.

While on the raft he tries to reconstruct the events leading up to his confinement. This is done using the second person, which shifts the narrative perspective once again. These shifts from one characters perspective to another is an effective way of combining the different strands. Jai-Li’s story is particularly fascinating and will provide one of the keys to the epic journey Kayle and Gideon embark on. This journey entails weird and wonderful obstacles and temptations to avoid lest they kill. Each place they arrive at offers another key to the mystery.

The sheer imagination and ingenuity of this novel kept me enthralled throughout. It is very well constructed; despite the many strands the narrative is clear and the answer to the mystery is unexpected. It is more than an adventure, a journey through strange and wonderful dangers; it is also about self, the struggles all beings endure and the difficulties we face in understanding our mission and purpose in life.

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