This Brutal House
As much as Niven Govinden’s This Brutal House is a story about a protest, it’s also a story about language, advocacy, and what it means to have a voice. The protagonists of the novel, aging drag queens and their municipally employed protégé, engage in a demonstration that derives its power from silence. By refusing to speak, the characters call attention to their unjust treatment by law enforcement and to the ways in which they’ve been robbed of their right to be heard.
Still, Govinden’s novel sings. The language isn’t technically stellar; reading it takes effort and a fair amount of adjustment. But standard writing is a product of privilege, and Govinden has taken it upon himself to create a new voice for a group of people who have been systematically silenced. That voice is clunky and awkward: stocky sentences totter in high heels, a formal tone clashes with improper grammar, and a basic vocabulary is interspersed with discordant archaisms.
It will take effort for most readers to get through the book, but that’s essential – those who typically exist outside of the culture Govinden’s novel examines shouldn’t have easy access to it on the page, either. Like the song from which the book takes its name, this book can at times be one-note and incomprehensible, but it’s always is restless and surprising.
Words: Sophie Stein