Dambudzo Marechera is my favourite writer of all time. The House of Hunger epitomises what Marechera was all about and the Guardian Fiction Prize of 1979 was just icing on the cake. I have read the book over ten times over the years but I have never gotten round to reviewing it.
The title of the book arises from the novella with the same title which forms the biggest chunk of the book. In addition to the novella are nine short stories all aptly titled to give the reader a snapshot of the writer’s eccentricities. It is definitely not an easy book to review neither is it easy to read. The writer rapes us into journeying through his tormented mind. The title novella itself is hugely autobiographical as the narrator relates his ordeal in war-torn Rhodesia. The first sentence is epic; I got my things and left.What follows is a schizophrenic repertoire of literary genius as the narrator-cum-writer-trump takes the reader through the dusty streets of a black Rhodesia ghetto all the way via hell to his final escape from the house of hunger.
In characteristic Marechera-style, the narrator’s first sex lesson stands out. It is this particular part of the book that lured me to the man. I vividly remember the day our high school English Literature teacher described the scene in a disdainful but proud voice as he attempted to dissuade us from reading that type of Literature. Naturally that gave me the insatiable impetus to read every single word Marechera ever wrote. The sex lesson came as a rude arousal from slumber under his parents’ bed where the narrator had to sleep every night for lack of space. He hears the squeeking of the bed and the tortured breaths of the two custodians of the loins from whence he came. His first attempt of the same act got him a venereal disease; a disease which earns him the rite of passage into adulthood. The whole book reeks of violence. Gunshots are so commonplace it is difficult to hear the small still voice of the drunk and gifted poet. Flora Veit-Wild, Marechera’s biographer and lover, repeatedly clamoured that the author was more of a poet than a prose-writer. I agree. The same could be said of James Joyce whom Marechera emulated and revered.
Had Dambudzo Marechera not tragically died so young in 1987 (at the tender age of 32) I am quite certain every student of English Literature would have hated the man. His work is a nightmare to study. It is convoluted, sprinkled and true. He was a voracious and prodigious reader who wrote exactly what he read after first testing it out on his own life of coarse. The House of Hunger is a brilliant work of art and the best Zimbabwe has ever produced. It is a difficult book to read but very much worth the effort. I dare you to read it.