Sara Highbury, now forty-eight years old and the manageress of a boarding house, is living in the aftermath of a love affair with Herbert Wakeford, a one-time diamond digger who suffers from a degenerative brain disease. Years after their relationship ended, Sara is still haunted by Herbert and what passed between them.
Set against the backdrop of the early 1900s South African mines and the vast landscapes that connected these to Cape Town, this is a story of the loss of person and identity, and the struggle to hold on to life and love. As the illness takes hold, Sara watches Herbert being blown this way and that by his thoughts. In the years that follow, he is to spend much of his life in an institution, coming to visit Sara now and then, and she him. An unlikely affair leads to Herbert being named the father of an apprentice girl's child. The baby is abandoned outside Herbert's sanatorium and unable to keep her, he sends the child, Aloma Maggie, to Sara who reluctantly takes her in.
Now in 1945, on the eve of Herbert's funeral, having tracked Sara down to her new position in the boarding house, an old friend, Amin Hafferjee, a one-time quality-controller at a fruit processing plant, brings news about this girl, news that will challenge all that Sara has held dear.
With the backdrop of a rural landscape and characters that are as memorable as they are unexpected, The Shape of Him introduces a writer whose spare, exquisitely crafted prose places her deservedly in the tradition of the best of South African literary fiction.