Black Sunlight opens with a violent conceptual metaphor, FICTION IS A WINDOW. Marechera develops this further by connecting tense and tension. Sentences fragment. Through another familiar metaphor he asserts that FICTION IS A BIRTH. And the first story that emerges concerns an African runner who has seen a white woman for the first time. The narrator, who has just escaped the pitlatrine, but is eventually inverted in the chickenshit, explains (to the reader) that this woman is no other than Blanche Goodfather, whom he met whilst at Oxford University. They spent one afternoon together. The tone of this meeting is set by the “framed print” in Blanche Goodfather’s room (nothing as common as a poster tacked to the wall) which shows Bronzino’s Allegory. The pornographic fondling of Venus by Eros serves as an echo of what the narrator and character have indulged in. Snow “digresses” against the windowpanes, once more establishing the relationship between window and narrative. In a single sentence, the reader is pulled back to the narrator in the chicken shit, then another digression follows. It seems a careless departure, another story pasted in, but it is a carefully placed digression.
Now, the narrator remembers a day with friends. Flies scan every mouthful of sadza. The sun, at noon, directly above the narrator’s head is “burning angrily”. Heat and food are activating the flies. From where he reads, the spectator can see two female figures (Katherine and Marie?) eating and hear a third, Susan, engaged with a client. Implicitly, eating and sexuality connect. Sexual eating provided food for the table. Most interesting, though, is the book that is being read: No Orchids for Miss Blandish.
The book is by Hadley Chase. As a person who learnt to read early, Hadley Chase was a staple diet for the young Marechera. And that metaphor was literally true. In a 1983 interview, Marechera relates how he read Hadley Chase, at primary school age, because reading directed his mind away from hunger. Later on, his reading choices shifted to Orwell, and that might well be significant. Marechera recalls reading Orwell at 15-16, somewhere around 1968, the year in which Orwell published his Collected Essays. The Collected Essays contains a blistering review of Hadley Chase’s No Orchids for Miss Blandish, a novel, which Orwell describes as “a header into the cesspool.” Cesspool, pitlatrine, chickenshit. Orwell disliked the novel intensely, for even though it was well written and a convincing fiction, the novel included violence, rapes, and wrongly praised the “power instinct”.
Subconsciously, what seems a narrative departure, in the mind of the narrator is not so. It is part of the theme that introduces the novel: sexuality and power. No Orchids for Miss Blandish isn’t a throwaway detail, rather an image that connects physical hunger and intellectual repletion. The allusion links sex, violence, sexual power and society to the narrator. These are core concerns in Black Sunlight. The flies whose eyes “glistened with the paranoia of black sunlight” are images of inverted vision: their windows see a world that requires suicidal actions. In some ways, Black Sunlight is a satire on popular crime writing, on a genre which made heterosexual pornography acceptable, yet Marechera's philosophical vision of terrorism and society is of a different order.