Long Flight Home

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Long Flight Home follows events in the life of James Van Gogh, who grapples with two fundamental tensions: his split from his adopted family and his dislocation from the society in which he finds himself. The novel begins in Johannesburg with James returning, for the first time since their ruction, to his family home, where his mother is dying of cancer. In many ways, he is still tormented by the issues surrounding his adoption. The visit ends badly, with James fleeing her funeral service. Nevertheless, he gains a deep friendship with his mother's caretaker, a woman named Mel. His intimacy with her is one of two important relationships the novel tracks. The other is between James and a pair of young beggars - a boy and a girl - who interest him initially on a professional plane: he is researching an investigative work on street children. Although Mel is a married woman, James influences her to take up work in Cape Town, where he lives - a decision made easier by the dubious state of her marriage. They begin a tentative affair. Mel is not sure of herself, aware at all times that she is betraying her principles. James has no such scruples, however, and he plays a wily game. Eventually, they consummate their relationship. But shortly thereafter Mel disappears. Her body is found in a patch of veld - she is dead. James uses his connections to the streets to find out the identity of the killer. The boy introduces him to an informer, who takes him into the Flats. There, James comes face to face with the man who murdered Mel, but finds himself impotent, unable to act. After that, to distract himself, he concentrates on his work. Determined to regain control of his surroundings, to reassert his will, he takes in one of the street children w the girl. But the boy, who has become involved in an underworld of drugs and crime, exerts a negative influence. James makes arrangements for the authorities to take him in, but, with the plans in place, the children disappear.