"A novel about Lindanathi, a young HIV+ man grappling with the death of his brother, for which he feels unduly responsible. He and his friends—Cecelia and Ruan—work low-paying jobs and sell anti-retroviral drugs. In between, they huff glue, drift through parties, and traverse the streets of Cape Town where they observe the grave material disparities of their country."
Even as The Reactive hits some story beats that readers of a certain melancholy strain of crime fiction will find familiar, it also evades them. This is as much a book about atmosphere and states of mind as it is about the activities in which Lindanathi is enmeshed. And fundamentally, it’s not so much about the dangers that Lindanathi encounters on a daily level. Instead, it’s about answering the question of how he came to be in this position, and how his guilt has slowly spread itself across all aspects of his life. This is an affecting, slow-burning novel that gives a fantastic sense of a particular place and time, and of the haunted inner life of its protagonist.
What it lacks in plot The Reactive makes up for with the pleasures of the trio’s spaced-out, deeply inward friendship ... The Reactive is largely a novel about Nathi fumbling toward meaning. It does not look closely at the AIDS pandemic or at poverty or politics—but politics inform the novel’s conditions ... [a] haunting and seductive novel.
I sometimes found myself wishing the masked man amounted to more than he does, and that the book had a bit more narrative snap, the relief of suspense that comes with a flash of violence, a narrow escape, maybe some moral brinksmanship. But there are other pleasures to be had here, as Ntshanga weaves a diaphanous fabric out of narrative devices—like point of view, the novel’s sense of time, and intermingling with African folklore. The primary satisfaction of the novel is in experiencing Cape Town through Lindanthi ... The author has a sympathetic ear for the particular rhythms of young friendship, the banter, the petty arguments, the sticky and fleeting fun. The scenes that find Lindanathi, Cissie and Ruan doing nothing more than hanging out together are delightful and hilarious.