Maverick Life


Sven Axelrad’s new novel ‘God’s Pocket’ is a coming-of-age story with a twist

Sven Axelrad’s new novel ‘God’s Pocket’ is a coming-of-age story with a twist
'God's Pocket' by Sven Axelrad. Image: The Reading List/ Supplied

Philosophical, erudite and sexy, ‘God’s Pocket’ is a thought-provoking read that will haunt you long after you’ve turned the last page.

God’s Pocket is the second novel from author Sven Axelrad, following his critically acclaimed debut, Buried Treasure.

While God’s Pocket is not a sequel, both tales take place in the same fictitious town of Vivo, and are narrated in the same darkly humorous voice. 

The novel tells the story of a young man who moves into an abandoned cabin at the bottom of a quarry (God’s Pocket) to write his first novel, which he believes will change his life and save him from having to study accountancy. The quarry, however, isn’t quite as abandoned as it seems. 

Read an excerpt below.


Fate and entropy

As mentioned, our story begins with two young people. Not adults or children, but those who inhabit the strange and exciting middle ground between the two, where life itself, via a conspiracy of hormones and nerve endings, is louder, brighter and generally more painful.

Here they come, speeding through the narrow streets of Vivo in a rusty old car. Street vendors hold their collective breath until the car passes, their livelihoods spared by the narrowest of margins. Behind the wheel of the old car is a boy/man/neither (a teenager), dark eyes, dark hair, dark mood. Beside him, in the passenger seat, in mortal danger but seemingly nonplussed, bored even, is a girl/woman/neither. The boy’s name is Filipe and the girl’s name is Olivia. They prefer to go by Filo and Liv. As a brief aside, the Roman god Janus is often invoked when dealing with teenagers. Janus is the one with two faces, one pointed to the future and the other to the past. He is almost always depicted holding a key and loitering in a doorway. Personally, I prefer the Greek version, but only because theirs is a dog. I will now enter the car at great personal risk and relay the conversation that is unfolding at this very minute.

‘Are you going to tell me what happened or are you waiting for the police to start chasing us?’

Filo sighs and slows the car. Only Liv can calm him down when he gets like this.

‘I really don’t think killing a pedestrian will solve your problems,’ Liv says, tucking her skirt under her legs. ‘Turn left here.’

Filo obeys without question and the old car speeds onto the single road that leads out of Vivo. There is no sign that says Welcome to Vivo – at some point along this road you are simply in or out of Vivo, almost as if it happens gradually and at a different point for each person who makes the journey.

For those of you who don’t know it, Vivo is a mid-sized town. It’s large enough to have its own university, and its own cemetery too, a sprawling necropolis known as the Treasury. Recently there has been quite a bit of trouble at the Treasury, with bodies being buried in the wrong graves, but that is another story entirely.

Liv’s chiding about the police did the trick in getting Filo to slow down, though in truth there is little chance of police interference. Here the police operate under the general maxim that most problems solve themselves. In this way, the Vivano chief of police, contrary to the laws of entropy, truly believes that while shit happens, if left alone, it unhappens.

Up ahead the road is covered in ‘lumps’. These ‘lumps’ are the corpses of various animals ranging in size from lizards to cats. A narrator cannot afford to be squeamish, but we can be consi­derate, and so I will continue to call them ‘lumps’ until the story demands otherwise. There are so many lumps on this stretch of road that inhabitants of Vivo have taken to calling it the Pan (an abbreviation, its full name being God’s Frying Pan). In summer the temperature of the Pan is so high and the lumps so numerous that there is always some poor member of known animalia cooking on the shimmering surface. It’s the job of the Central Municipality to clear these unfortunate fauna from the road, but the Pan is on the outskirts of town and, without any clear municipal line separating Vivo and its neighbours, the Central Municipality has decided (predictably) that the Pan is not its problem.

‘There’s nowhere to stop,’ Filo says, but then as if by divine/malign providence a car-sized shoulder appears and he brings the car to a halt a hand’s breadth from plummeting over the edge of a steep drop – this precarious position between the established path and the dangerous unknown serving as a perfect illustration of the life stage of teenagers. Liv exits the car. After a quick look out of his window (in which he sees nothing but clouds and sky), Filo follows through her door and catches up to her, crouched down beside what might have been a recently deceased rat.

‘If you brought me here to show me that things could be worse, Liv, I get the point.’

‘Do you think these are all rats?’ Liv asks. ‘It’s hard to tell.’

‘My dad says that ever since the Rat-Catcher died, Vivo is being overrun with them.’

‘You don’t seriously believe those bedtime stories about the Rat-Catcher, do you?’ Liv asks as she hops up onto the bonnet of the car. She likes the way the heat from the engine singes her bare calves. As a child she always liked to sit a bit too close to the flames. ‘So, are you going to tell me what happened?’

Filo climbs up next to her, and with their backs against the windshield and the empyrean skies above, these two friends have a heart to heart in which Filo explains his dilemma, the greatest of his life thus far.

I will summarise it for you. DM

God’s Pocket by Sven Axelrad is published by Umuzi (R320). Visit The Reading List for South African book news, daily – including excerpts!


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