Even as The Reactive hits some story beats that readers of a certain melancholy strain of crime fiction will find familiar, it also evades them. This is as much a book about atmosphere and states of mind as it is about the activities in which Lindanathi is enmeshed. And fundamentally, it’s not so much about the dangers that Lindanathi encounters on a daily level. Instead, it’s about answering the question of how he came to be in this position, and how his guilt has slowly spread itself across all aspects of his life. This is an affecting, slow-burning novel that gives a fantastic sense of a particular place and time, and of the haunted inner life of its protagonist.
What it lacks in plot The Reactive makes up for with the pleasures of the trio’s spaced-out, deeply inward friendship ... The Reactive is largely a novel about Nathi fumbling toward meaning. It does not look closely at the AIDS pandemic or at poverty or politics—but politics inform the novel’s conditions ... [a] haunting and seductive novel.
I sometimes found myself wishing the masked man amounted to more than he does, and that the book had a bit more narrative snap, the relief of suspense that comes with a flash of violence, a narrow escape, maybe some moral brinksmanship. But there are other pleasures to be had here, as Ntshanga weaves a diaphanous fabric out of narrative devices—like point of view, the novel’s sense of time, and intermingling with African folklore. The primary satisfaction of the novel is in experiencing Cape Town through Lindanthi ... The author has a sympathetic ear for the particular rhythms of young friendship, the banter, the petty arguments, the sticky and fleeting fun. The scenes that find Lindanathi, Cissie and Ruan doing nothing more than hanging out together are delightful and hilarious.
Ntshanga does more than merely illustrate the way this illness, like all things, plays a role in human symbology. Rather, the novel creates a space in which the reader can experience this metaphorization as well as critique it; it thus allows us to engage in the tension between metaphorization’s necessity and its damage. Ntshanga accomplishes this and his many other artistic feats by elegantly intertwining the personal with the political ... a beautiful novel, as fierce and formally innovative as it is lyrical and moving.