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David leaves his home and the University in Cape Town and travels to Salem to visit his daughter, Lucy, who lives on a farm set on five hectares of land. Lucy gives David a warm welcome and he notices she has gained weight, particularly in her hips and breasts. David also learns that Helen, Lucy’s girlfriend, no longer lives on the farm, but instead has returned to Johannesburg. David is concerned that Lucy lives alone, though Lucy assures him she is safe. She tells him that she has a rifle and that the dogs she kennels, including Dobermans, German shepherds, Rottweilers, and ridgebacks, provide an added level of security.
As David and Lucy talk more, he learns more about his daughter’s life. Along with the kennels, she earns money from selling flowers and garden produce at the farmers’ market. Lucy also tells David about Petrus, her assistant who recently became co-proprietor of their farmland. David then tells Lucy about his current project on the last years of Byron’s life, which he says will likely be an opera. David and Lucy also discuss David’s scandal, which Lucy learned about while speaking with Rosalind. David tells Lucy he will not miss teaching, in part because he wasn’t making a real impact on his students.
David then meets Petrus, who refers to himself as the gardener and the “dog-man.” David confides to Petrus that he sometimes worries about Lucy’s safety. Although Petrus agrees that there are looming dangers in the world, he tells David he thinks the farm is safe. Nevertheless, David has his doubts and hopes Lucy’s life on the farm will only be a phase.
Lucy and David also discuss his plans and Lucy offers that he stay with her indefinitely. David takes offense, however, saying he’s not a fugitive while remaining defiant about what he says was the committee’s efforts to reform his character. He also tells Lucy that the committee wanted remorse from him and that they “wanted me castrated.” Lucy chides David, however, for being unbending and asks him if there’s time to reconsider his decision, though David remains defiant. Later, asleep in the room that was once Helen’s, David is awakened in the middle of the night by a flurry of barking from the kennel dogs.
David has not packed warm clothes suited for winter in the Eastern Cape and finds that he needs to borrow a sweater from Lucy. On a morning walk with three dogs, including Katy, an abandoned dog, David and Lucy speak more about his scandal. Lucy asks if David’s attraction to Melanie has ended, though he only makes a vague comment that their contact has ended. Lucy also asks David if he’ll ever marry again. David, though, doesn’t believe he is marriage material, and questions whether Lucy is hinting that marriage would be better than, in David’s sarcastic words, “preying on children.” He then recites a quote from the poet Blake about unacted desires.
As David and Lucy continue their walk and discussion, David tells Lucy that all his relationships with women have taught him something about himself and have made him a better person. For her part, Lucy tells David that the farm has given her what she needs in life.
On Saturday, Lucy, Petrus, and David cut flowers, then load the kombi, or van, with the cuttings along with produce. Lucy and David travel to the farmers’ market, where David gains more insight into Lucy’s life. She’s successful in her trade and many of Lucy’s customers know her by name, have a good rapport with her, and seem to take pleasure in her success. Lucy introduces each of them to David, including Bev Shaw, who runs the local Animal Welfare League. David doesn’t immediately take to Bev, who’s described as looking “dumpy.”
Later, Lucy takes David to Grahamstown to visit the animal clinic, which survives thanks to a small group of volunteers, including Lucy. David does his best to be polite at the clinic but finds its smells of urine and dog mange disgusting. He is equally unsettled when he enters Bev’s home, which she shares with her husband, Bill. Their house, to David’s eyes, is filled with clutter, animals, and bad furniture, and its yard with weeds, pallets, and old tires.
When David and Lucy leave, they discuss Bev and her work. David tells Lucy that her work is admirable but that it’s not for him and adds that the work must feel like fighting a losing battle. Lucy admits that the funding for animal welfare has dried up, and that it is low on South Africa’s list of priorities, but says the animals are comforted by Bev’s help. Lucy then scolds David, telling him that although he likely expects her to be doing greater things, she believes she’s doing well, in part because she’s living a compassion-based life and treating animals with kindness and respect.
David watches a soccer game on television, its commentary alternating between South Africa’s Sotho and Xhosa languages, neither of which David understands. He nods off and later wakes with Petrus by his side, drinking beer and deeply engaged in the game.
Later, David finds Lucy reading in her bedroom. He sits on Lucy’s bed and wonders to her if his visit isn’t working and if he should leave the farm. Lucy, described here as attractive despite being overweight and dressed in clothes typically not regarded as feminine, tells David she is happy he is there, however, and that he just needs to adjust to the slowness of country living. In the moment, David wonders if his parenting style could have led her to be a lesbian.
Lucy then suggests that to occupy his time, David should assist with the dogs or even help Petrus tend to his own farmlands as Petrus recently purchased more than a hectare of Lucy’s lands with the help of a Land Affairs grant. David agrees to do both, commenting that he likes the “historical piquancy” that will come from working for Petrus. David also agrees to help Bev at the clinic, though he jokes that his volunteering there won’t be to become a better person. Lucy assures him, however, that no one expects him to change. In the exchange, as David observes Lucy further, he becomes aware of her voluptuousness, and is unable to conceal his glance.
Later, David steps outside to spend time with the dogs, including Katy. David tickles her behind her ears and speaks to her about being abandoned. When Lucy joins David, she laments how poorly humans treat dogs. When David asks Lucy what she’ll do with Katy, she promises to keep Katy if need be. The conversation leads to Bev and how she’s forced to euthanize many unwanted dogs at her clinic. Lucy then tells David that Bev is more interesting than he thinks, which causes him to reassess his original feelings toward her and apologize.
After David is exiled from Cape Town and the University, Lucy offers him a place of refuge on her farm in Salem, the Hebrew word for peace. The role reversal between father and daughter, now an adult of her own, is striking. It’s apparent, too, when Lucy lends David a sweater to keep himself warm during a morning walk and when she drives him in her kombi while he sits in the passenger seat. Lucy also establishes herself as a full-fledged adult who’s unafraid to think independently from, and even challenge and teach, David. While discussing Melanie, she hints that he should pursue women his own age, and she chides him for believing he’s above needing counselling. David’s realization that his daughter Lucy is now her own person comes with its struggles, but also pride, as he considers her a respectable woman with a good life on the farm.
David’s relationship with women continues to be complicated at best. He tells Lucy that all the women he’s known have taught him something and helped him grow as a person. Nevertheless, David’s sexual drive still guides him, and he remains unrepentant regarding his affair with Melanie, alluding to Lucy that it’s best to act on your desires. His understanding about women’s issues remains lacking and he still has trouble seeing most women as being anything other than sexual objects. When he meets Bev Shaw he’s repelled by her appearance, believing there’s something wrong with women who, in his mind, don’t care about their appearance. David’s preoccupation with sex and physical appearance even extends to Lucy. Upon his arrival to the farm, he notices his daughter’s “ample” hips and breasts and later her voluptuousness. Although David appears to accept Lucy as a lesbian, he questions why she would put on so much weight, thinks of her as being lost to the world of men, and wonders whether her sexual preference might be the result of a burden stemming from his immense love for her.
David continues to be resistant to change, believing himself to be incapable of self-growth. Although David agrees to volunteer at Bev Shaw’s animal orphanage, he insists it’s not to change or become a better person. Lucy’s wisdom and lessons about being kind to animals appear to have influenced David, however. He begins to show kindness and affection to the abandoned bulldog, Katy, and feel a sadness for the world’s unwanted, realizing women like Bev Shaw don’t deserve to be ignored. David’s personal growth also intersects with larger societal changes. Under South Africa’s Apartheid system, Black people were not allowed to own land in white areas. That Petrus, Lucy’s Black assistant, has purchased part of Lucy’s land is significant, as is David’s agreement to take Lucy’s advice and work for him.
Concerns for Lucy’s safety occupy David’s thoughts at the outset of his visit. Though Lucy assures him she’s safe being alone on the farm because of the dogs in her kennel, David’s continued discussion on the matter with his daughter, and later with Petrus, hints of underlying threats and violence related to racial segregation and tensions in South Africa. Historically, dogs were largely introduced and bred by European settlers for defense against perceived threats from Black people. David’s wakening to the dog’s incessant barking during his first night of the farm also foreshadows future violent events that come to dominate Lucy and David’s relationship moving forward.