Double Negative subtly paints a picture of South Africa at three stages in the life of Neville Lister. Throughout, the ordinary is played out against the background of recent South African history where everyday lives run parallel with the momentous changes taking place in the society around them.
At some point, Louis slipped into the repetitive storytelling I had to endure every day as I drove around Joburg with Jaco Els. The shift was imperceptible, as if someone had put on a record in the background, turned down low, and by the time you became aware of it your mood had already altered. An odourless poison leaked out of him. His dearest childhood memories were of the practical jokes he had played on the servants. Stringing ropes to trip them up, setting off firecrackers under their beds, unscrewing the seat on the long drop. You could imagine that he had found his vocation in the process. His work, which involved jailing people for petty offences was a malevolent prank. The way he spoke about it, forced removals, detention without trial, the troops in the townships were simply larger examples of the same mischief.