The Third Reel by SJ Naudé
(Salt, 2018)

The Third Reel

by SJ Naudé

Twenty-two-year-old Etienne is studying film in London, having fled conscription in his native South Africa. It is 1986, the time of Thatcher, anti-apartheid campaigns and Aids, but also of postmodern art, post-punk rock, and Royal Vauxhall Tavern. Adrift in a city cast in shadow, he falls in love with a German artist while living in derelict artists’ communes.

When Etienne finds the first of three reels of a German film from the 1930s, he begins searching for the missing reels, a project that turns into an obsession when his lover disappears in Berlin. It is while navigating this city divided by the Wall that Etienne gradually pieces together the history of a small group of Jewish film makers in Nazi Germany.

It is a desperate quest amid complications that pull him back to the present and to South Africa. However, his search for the missing film continues.

Ambitious and cosmopolitan, the material of S. J. Naudé’s The Third Reel is as disparate as the cities in which the book is set. Architecture, cinematography, sex, music, illness, loss and love all collide in this exquisitely wrought, deeply affecting novel.


I read this haunting and brilliant book in a white heat of wonder. At once Bildungsroman, intellectual mystery, and thriller reimagined as vision quest, The Third Reel gives that rare excitement peculiar to great novels: the thrill of discovering a new and necessary world.”
- Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You
Part thriller and mystery, a story of becoming oneself and then seeing oneself undone. This is a serious book that pulls the reader into realms that many of us are scared to venture Naudé has written a masterpiece of literature with an end that will leave you staring into the heart of light or darkness. But, mostly looking towards the light.”
- Cape Times
S. J. Naudé, who also wrote the much acclaimed Alphabet of Birds, has captured the spirit of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain of the 80s perfectly: the squats, the depressing grey of London, the anti-apartheid campaigners, the beginning of HIV Aids and of people with big dreams and visions for a better world who join forces to make ends meet. The Third Reel is a complex novel with many layers and allegories. It is an unsettling book that will give you plenty to think about. However, it is compelling reading and is just as compulsive as Etienne’s search for the missing reel”
- Brian Ross, The Gremlin
Reading this book I was thunderstruck, with all that it implies: humidity, lightning, sweat, frissons of fear, the commanding of attention. Look at me, hear me. Reading SJ Naudé's The Third Reel pinioned me throughout, exhausting, exhiliarating. It is a magnificent, brilliant feat of writing, visceral and unflinching, and marks the point at which Naudé moves to the front line of the best of South African writers … Few books in the past years have I thought of more highly, or affected me as much.”
- Beverley Roos-Muller, Cape Argus
A work that definitely pushes the boundaries of convention, hope and desire, it is written in an eminently readable and beautiful style … The story is intricate, ambitious and haunting. Reflective of the cities in which the book is set, you’ll relive the sights and smells of an era that was fraught with sex, music, illness, loss and love. The construction is that of a fine piece of architecture, brilliantly fashioned and held together, taking us on a step-by-step journey through all the rooms of the psyche … Without doubt a book of great literary standing and one that holds the reader in its thrall, never losing its grip on you.”
- Beryl Eichenberger, The Books Page
A magisterial novel … rarely have I been so captivated by an Afrikaans novel, so fascinated and impressed, kept so busy by it, even after a second read. With S J Naude's The Third Reel, we have a formidable new voice in Afrikaans, firmly established. The fact that he is writing in Afrikaans, and on the black wall of pessimism descending around us, takes one's breath away -- and provides a peeping hole to the light beaming on the other shore.”
- Helize van Vuuren, LitNet
To describe this novel as captivating would be a euphemism … People will be talking about this novel for a long time … With this book, Naudé’s talent as a writer is confirmed. In my view, it is one of the literary highlights of 2017.”
- Dewald Koen, Die Berger
Like all good art, The Third Reel does not conform to conventional expectations. It is a novel that is unsettling due to its uniqueness and delivers a real punch. It belongs on a shelf with the best Afrikaans novels.”
- Neil Cochrane, Rapport