If an uncompelling poet stops writing, it really isn't a tragedy to anyone other than that poet. In fact, it's more of a moral victory for the misguided soul, no? South African novelist Damon Galgut uses the inspirational bankruptcy of a young poet to show how passivity corrupts. But even though The Impostor is set in a locale where such a lesson would still resonate, the book never lands a full punch, because the consequences of the poet's inaction are muddy at best.
Spiked by spiritual malaise, Adam Napier moves from his Johannesburg hometown to live in his brother's dilapidated country house. Hoping to reconnect with his muse, Napier instead falls into a stupor as the weeks pass. In a nearby village, he runs into a childhood schoolmate, Canning, who has inherited an unfinished gaming preserve from his father, one with only a few wild animals and a handful of paid workers from the town. Canning lionizes Napier, though Napier himself can't remember the guy from his youth. In fact, he finds Canning, filled with forced bravura and a disregard for the locals, somewhat repugnant.
But without much else to do, Napier starts spending weekends at Canning's estate. And perhaps inevitably, he sleeps with Canning's alluring but emotionally chilly "coloured" wife, Baby. Getting with Baby temporarily rekindles Napier's poetry writing, and even sparks the energy to clear away all the unsightly weeds that choke his backyard. Canning is seemingly oblivious to this affair; he is too busy making plans to bulldoze the game preserve and install a golf course for the wealthy, mostly as a way to erase his father's legacy. As part of this work, he asks Napier to deliver a package of papers to the nearby town's mayor, a seemingly mundane chore that eventually puts Napier in harm's way.
Galgut's story ambles along languidly though pleasantly enough, but ultimately never reaches a satisfying end. Galgut wants you to assume that Napier's passive loyalty to Canning led to a presumably atrocious countryside-destroying golf course, as well as a threat to Napier's own life. But Napier's involvement in the project was tangential, and the danger to his life abstract and short lived. Nor does Galgut explain why building a golf course is such a bad idea: Doesn't running a gaming preserve--the land's former intended use--carry its own moral baggage? And wouldn't such a facility, however garish, create jobs for the impoverished folks living nearby? Without explanation of why Napier's complicity hurt him or those around him, the true failing of inaction here remains with Galgut.