Thursday 24 May 2012

Caine Prize Shortlist 3: Love On Trial by Stanley Kenani

This is going to be very easy and very difficult.

Stanley Kenani's story is a worthy effort on an important issue: the persecution faced by homosexuals. He tells us of the criminalisation of a gay man whose sexuality is found out by a village busybody. The man decided to be honest and 'come out'. He is faced with derision, contempt, some grudging respect when he responds with clarity and dignity, and finally he is imprisoned. In an attempt to punish his country for its anti-homosexality laws, the outside world cuts off ties and stops sending aid. This effects the whole nation, from the whistleblower who spotted the homosexuals in action, and who suffers from AIDS and is dependent on medication sent by aid groups, to the prison guards who target their gay prisoner as the cause of the increased poverty hitting their nation and them.

But it's all told in such a flat style; it's all told, not shown. It's stacked up so heavily to boost a given message, the characters never come to life and there's just one too many attempts to paint him in a positive life, positing a daughter of a top politician who loves him and offers to rescue him if he publicly acknowledges her as his romantic choice. Just one too many telling details, told in too distanced and passive a manner.

I am not saying this is a bad story; if anything, this is an ethically engaged and even true story in some sense deeper than fact. I hate to weigh down so heavily on a story that contains such a worthy message. But it's not a very effective story, not a very skilled piece of literature. I'm not sure its inclusion on this list was a good choice. I don't think it can do much good for the perception of the Caine Prize as a reward that focusses on literary merit rather than anything else.

Stephen Derwent Partington
Backslash Scott

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