...while the novel’s spell lasts, it can feel like the earliest, exhilarating days under a new administration, when a pliant populace is eager and willing to follow wherever a confident leader directs us ... The tale she wants to tell is more ambitious and more immediate than a fable, a story about how the slightest taste of power so easily stimulates our limitless appetite for sadism ... But even if we had no idea what life was like under their equally despotic reigns, we could immediately recognize the brutality from Dovey’s pitch-perfect renderings of her three narrators’ daily lives and routines, each one a microscopic marvel of sublimated aggression ... The final movement of Blood Kin is a muted success: a few last-minute plot twists feel melodramatic and better suited to soap opera, but the novel’s closing pages, in which the fates of the Commander and his three servants at last converge, fold together as elegantly as origami.
In a slim, sharp first novel, Blood Kin, South Africa-born writer Ceridwen Dovey approaches politics through sexuality, forcefully underlining the unsettling ways in which the two are linked ... Parables can be deadeningly vague. Although none of the characters have names, Dovey’s novel is refreshingly spiky and precise, its insights startling and original ... This is one fable that is short on general principles, long on hard-edged specifics.
Throughout this portrait of a small republic following a coup, Dovey seems to question whether it’s those who seek power who are already corrupted ... Blood Kin is, like all good fables, deceptively simple. Extraneous details are removed. We have no names, no place names, no national history. The story effectively takes place in an ahistorical, ageographical landscape ... The chapters are brief and to the point. Information and the reader’s understanding accumulate over time, as each part of the puzzle connects with adjoining pieces ... Perhaps Dovey is presenting the simplistic (but common) assertion than a world run by women would be a world without wars ... In this, Dovey’s heavily stylised approach to situation and character does diminish the force of this point.
Blood Kin is a story about power, political and personal, and its dangerous ineffability ... The knit of Dovey’s tale, though seemingly ponderous, is tightly controlled, and her characters reveal only choice bits of themselves in each chapter ... At stake for the chef, barber, and portraitist is their apparent unquestioning loyalty to the president, but with the inclusion of the women’s voices, each narrator is compelled to address his or her complicity in various power structures, particularly in manipulating personal relationships to painfully self-serving ends ... Blood Kin reveals only that those who wield power are just as much its instrument.
It’s a promising set-up, which makes it all the more disappointing that over the course of 180 pages, it does not really go anywhere. The premise, and the small points of action which occur in turn, are used mainly as jumping off points from which the characters recall moments from the past, their own idiosyncrasies, former lovers, and remaindered sensations of childhood ... The problem is not that the digressions are poorly written or awkwardly conceived. In fact, they are often quite imaginative and authentic, standing solidly on their own as the peculiar ways in which a life might have been lived ... Dovey’s digressions about each tradesman at work are knowing and confident ... While the component parts are good, they don’t build together, so that by the end of the book, our understanding of the characters compares with the advancement of the plot; they both lie more or less in the same place we began.
Blood Kin doesn't aspire to the intense psychological anxieties mustered by similar explorations of collusion and oppression, such as Thomas Kenneally's Saddam cipher, The Tyrant's Novel. The trauma of physical violence is kept off stage whilst Dovey strategically deploys snapshots of family heritage. The effect is tense and dramatic, as though the claustrophobic pressures of a country house murder mystery, in which all are implicated by motive or connection, had been transplanted on to the political instability of Garcia Màrquez's revolutionary landscapes. Dovey draws strong, vivid characters and her keen eye for signposting detail ('a faint pattern of salt on his cheeks' revealing night tears) gives a sensual counterpoint to the ruthless logic of her subtly heralded dénouement.
Anthropology doctoral student Dovey's smart debut novel traces events in the lives of three functionaries in the entourage of the president of an unnamed country who is overthrown by the 'Commander' ... Dovey's prose gives the events an air of magic and allows this small, fable-like story to plainly illustrate the old axiom about power's ability to corrupt.
A spare political fable assesses the contaminating nature of power in both public and private lives ... Simultaneously sensuous and claustrophobic, the novel charts deception, estrangement and the recognition of power’s inevitably corrupting tendency. The brief but intense story concludes in a violent cycle of death, birth and grim continuity ... A dense, dark, impressively controlled first work. Not for optimists.