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2014’s Top Ten South African books

ten on yellow

Every year, The Star asks me to select the top ten South African books of the year. Lists – just like literary prizes – are inherently problematic, exclusionary and faulty, yet I love them for their cranky assumption that they are right. Cranky, because I think lists know their own vulnerabilities but bliksem forth anyway.

I chose this year’s list by asking myself: if a foreigner came to live here for a while, which books would give him or her a sense of what it’s like to live here, what it’s like to be South African? These are the books I’d send them to:

TOP TEN BOOKS OF 2014

Tales of the Metric System

Imraan Coovadia

Umuzi

Spanning almost four decades in South Africa from the seventies, this intelligently devised chronicle takes in the lives of figures on the fringes of power, taking in broad social change and highlighting the individual against the backdrop of history. Coovadia’s fluid and unstrained prose shows the complexity of being alive in difficult times.

Lost and Found in Johannesburg

Mark Gevisser

Publisher

Memoir and history meld together around Gevisser’s cartographical journey into the social and geographic soul of Johannesburg. A breathtaking, intelligent and incisive poetry of place and identity emerge from the pages of this compelling non-fiction work.

Postmortem: The Doctor Who Walked Away

Maria Phalima

Tafelberg

This brave author, who seeks first to find fault with herself for her inability to continue coping within an inoperably sick public health care system, lays bare one of the most appalling failures of post-apartheid South Africa.

The Diving

Helen Walne

Penguin

This marvellous work is quick to read but plunges very deeply. Walne writes with a kooky clarity of vision about her brother’s death, examining suicide with unflinching intelligence and – oddly – with humour.

Dear Bullet

Sixolile Mbalo

Jonathan Ball

A devastating story about a single act of insouciant, casual and unspeakable inhumanity.  The “before” story has warmth; the “after” story is chilling considering how many men and women around us have been similarly brutalised.

An Imperfect Blessing

Nadia Davids

Umuzi

Davids investigates notions of liminality and heritage in this compassionate and humorous novel about Alia, a teenager at the time of the first democratic elections. She captures the in-between spaces in South Africa’s history, geography, identities and relationships.

A Man of Good Hope

Johnny Steinberg

Jonathan Ball Publishers

A chronicle of a young Somalian’s journey to South Africa at a time our country was particularly inhospitable to foreigners. Steinberg investigates the loss of control, the “in-betweenness” of having been displaced by great forces of history.

I See You

Ishtiyak Shukri

Jacana

Set in a fictional African country and around the life of an abducted photojournalist, this utterly singular novel elucidates how the present is also a part of history, and makes a case for dissonant and dissident voices.

Black Dog Summer

Miranda Sherry

Head of Zeus

Stepping gently into the potentially explosive area of farm murders, Sherry writes about the rippling effect of trauma through the eyes of a young girl. This is an unsentimental and richly rewarding novel that tightens its grip as it develops.

The Reactive

Masande Ntshanga

Random House Struik

Set in Cape Town before anti-retroviral drugs became generally available, Ntshanga’s brilliant debut follows Lindanathi’s life as it segues into the murky world of legal and illegal drugs. Lyrical and haunting, the novel “hears” the youth the way the goverment refuses to.

  • This list first appeared in The Star in December 2014.

 

REVIEW: Esther’s House

rdphouses (2)

EHEsther’s House                      

Carol Campbell                     

Umuzi

ISBN: 9781415207406

REVIEW: Sue Townsend

Carol Campbell in this, her second novel, has tried to bring to life the depressing, dire situation in which many, if not most, of the ordinary people of South Africa find themselves. She is showing us what it’s like to be decent people living in an indecent world, what it’s like to have no food to feed hungry children at night, what it’s like to be a helpless person faced with official corruption and utterly unfairness. We have all read the stories of the endless housing lists, the endless waiting, the endless despair, the utter hopelessness of poverty – whether of opportunity, money, resources access to infrastructure, or, in fact, of everything.

Esther is a mother, a wife, a reformed drunk, a good friend to her neighbours and – most importantly – thoroughly ticked off with the situation she finds herself in. Husband Neville is a waistrel, daughter Liedjie is trying to pass matric at night school while son Jaco has, unbeknownst to his mother, dropped out of school.  Their friend Katjie, who is also living in a backyard shack, is managing to keep body and soul together (just) as well as deal with her no-good daughter Shireen and Shireen’s two little girls.

And so the story begins with Katjie’s shack burning down, killing Shireen, and Esther trying to care for Katjie’s family as well as her own. Without wanting to spoil the ‘surprise’ of the unfolding dramas and traumas, things do not improve from here onwards.  Although – (warning – here comes a spoiler) – they do almost all come right in the end, at least for Esther.

The aangaanery in the lokasie and the newly built RDP houses is described in a mixture of Afrikaans, English and South African vernacular without any recourse to italics or a glossary.  This is fine for us South Africans but could be a little confusing for others.  In fact, the language is pretty plat. Despite this, the protagonists often express unusually insightful thoughts which are, unfortunately, not very nuanced; they could all have come from the same person.  On the whole, this is the problem with Campbell’s book.  The intentions are admirable and Campbell clearly has done her homework on Oudtshoorn and other Karroo towns and has knowledge of the townships that hide behind their hills as well as an ear for some of the language.  But the characters, even when behaving feistily, come over as one dimensional.  The various deaths, and there are a number, are dealt with in a matter of fact manner and then the story simply moves on.

The shenanigans involved in Titty’s acquisition of a house when not even on the housing list (nor having been born when Esther and Katjie put their names down) is treated in a fleeting manner which is a pity because, I think, this was the premise that Campbell was pointing to when writing her novel – the corruption and graft that is going on in South Africa to the detriment of all. But, eventually, the ending is almost fairytale-like.

 

TWO QUICK THRILLER REVIEWS

whisperlips

Thriller and crime fan Samantha Bartlett reviews two recent crime novels – one with a ghostly feel.

MurderMurder 101

Faye Kellerman

Harper Collins

ISBN: 9780062326355

Samantha Bartlett

Faye Kellerman has kept readers engaged with the life and crimes of Detective Peter Decker for 28 years in more than 20 books, each one a best-seller.

Now in his 60s, Decker has retired from the LAPD and moved to the police department of university town Greenbury in upstate New York, where he plans to spend his time breaking up drunken student brawls and rescuing cats from trees.

But the theft of Tiffany panels soon leads to two brutal murders and with a green partner with attitude problems and no other real detectives to back him up, Decker is forced to rope in his long-suffering wife Rina to help with the investigation.

Murder 101 will be satisfying for Decker fans, but not ideal to introduce his character and complex relationships to a first-time reader. If you’re keen to explore the series, start earlier and work your way towards this book – it’ll make a lot more sense that way.

Her Last Whisperwhisper

Karen Robards

Hodder & Stoughton

ISBN: 978-0-8041-7826-6

Samantha Bartlett

This is the third in the Dr Charlotte Stone series and this time she’s on the trail of the “Cinderella Killer”, a charming psychopath who kills young women and may have taken FBI agent Lena Kaminsky’s sister.

Stone has a very clinical outlook and is an expert in the psychology of serial killers, but at the same time she is a ghost whisperer and has a spirit love interest in Michael Garland – who may or may not himself be a serial killer.

While Robards has clearly developed a huge following for the Stone series, it’s difficult to reconcile a paranormal mystery with a serial killer plot line, and a “ghost lover” competing with a flesh and blood male and causing such emotional angst. It feels like there are two books fighting in one dust jacket and neither of them is winning. – Samantha Bartlett

QUICK REVIEW: Tokoloshe Song

kilian3-1024x1024

Karina Szczurek reviews two recent books with alternate realities.

TokolosheTokoloshe Song

Andrew Salomon

Umuzi

ISBN: 9781415207017

REVIEWER: Karina Szczurek

Just when he thought that his life is going to be all peace and quiet after giving up a career as a lawyer to restore old boats, Richard is called in for an emergency at the shelter for mistreated tokoloshes where he volunteers. There he meets Lun. After a false start, they become friends and embark on a roller-coaster adventure which takes them across the country to Nieu Bethesda and back in search of the grain of truth at the heart of an ancient myth. They receive assistance from Emily and Sindiwe, midwives of a secret order. Hot on their heels are a ruthless drug lord and a world-class assassin.

I’m not a fantasy fan, but I have enjoyed some of Salomon’s award-winning short fiction. Tokoloshe Song is his debut novel for adults and is as delightful and entertaining as his stories.

StationElevenHCUS2Station Eleven

Emily St. John Mandel

Picador

ISBN: 9780385353304

REVIEWER: Karina Szczurek

Within a short period of time a lethal flu wipes out 99% of the world’s population. Civilisation as we know it grinds to an abrupt halt. Station Eleven tells the story of a handful of survivors of the mayhem which ensues. At its centre is the resourceful Kirsten of the Travelling Symphony, a group of actors and musicians performing Shakespeare.

Spanning a few decades before and after the collapse, Mandel draws a bleak picture of humanity, but the darkness is penetrated by flashes of light and goodwill. Creativity, art, self-expression pave the way to society’s precarious rebirth as the individual characters realise how strongly the drive to be remembered is anchored within them. A thrilling page-turner which is simultaneously though-provoking and entertaining, Station Eleven is being deservedly compared to the likes of Margaret Atwood. This is speculative fiction at its best.

REVIEW: Outline

outline_3019702a

outline_3019702aOutline

Rachel Cusk

Faber & Faber

ISBN-13: 978-0374228347

REVIEW: Karin Schimke

There is little evidence of the narrator of this story of stories. The reader knows that she is a woman, a writer, a writing coach, divorced and that she has two sons. These things are revealed piecemeal and through conversations with the people she meets on a trip to Athens to teach a writing course.

That which is revealed about the writer are the things we glean about her from her choice of conversations she includes, but also through the very few questions her conversations partners throw her way sometimes. The book is a string of story pearls, each pearl added by the people she encounters, from her neighbour on the plane, to the friends she meets in Athens, to the people who attend her writing class.

In unlikely expositions, each tells her about him or herself in a series of conversations she has with them. Unlikely, because however open any person is to listening, it is doubtful that strangers will dissect happenings in their personal lives – not the great dramas, though there are plenty of those too, but the prosaic moments that lead to insight and revelation – to a complete stranger.

In order to enjoy the book, it is necessary to suspend one’s disbelief and, like the narrator, simply sit back and listen. If you can overcome what feels like a glitch in the writer’s expectation of the reader’s sense of what is possible, then this work will reward you on every page.

This is Cusk’s eighth novel. She has also written three non-fiction works, two of which – A Life’s Work: On Becoming a Mother and aftermath – elicited such bitter criticism, it is quite astonishing that she finds the courage to continue.

To be clear: the criticism is not of her ability to write. Cusk is a very good writer. The criticism is against her particular form of memoir, which has been called exploitative and cold. I have no such criticism against her. I find her intellect too sharp, her questioning too pertinent and her expositions too layered to get sucked into conversations about “how dare she”. She must dare. Writers of her calibre must dare and dare and dare the reader to go towards conversations and concerns that are mostly hidden behind veils of righteousness. Cusk is fearless in this and, I am glad, uncowed by the outcries of her pseudo-liberal critics.

Her last book, Aftermath, chronicled her divorce, but it was not a dirty laundry book and exposed very little of the intimate machinations of one marriage and its ending. Instead, she brings a classical eye to modern conundrums around feminism and equality.

Here, although Outline is fiction, she gives voice to a fraction of the nuances, blemishes, quiet joys and teachings of human relations. Most of the people with whom the narrator comes into contact, end up speaking about their relationships – with marriage partners, children and extended family, sometimes with animals, learning or the arts – and they are not afraid to air their dirty laundry. Interestingly, while they voice their irritations with others, the main thrust of their disclosures are deeply personal and cast them at times in a somewhat queasy light, though one’s judgment is held in check because they are so recognisably, poignantly human in their fallibilities.

While telling a story in which a woman recounts life with an incorrigible dog – which she admits to ending up beating– the  woman says “I became aware of this feeling of having deserted my own life … and I was suddenly filled with the most extraordinary sense of existence as a secret pain, an inner torment it was impossible to share with others, who asked you to attend to them while remaining oblivious to what was inside you”.

These sorts of observations – that plunge into the darkest pools of the crisis of living amongst people in a state of impenetrable singularity – make this novel a rewarding and subtly cerebral pleasure.

 

Boekredakteurs kies hulle beste vir die jaar

afr fiksie collage

Ek’s baie agter met Afrikaanse fiksie hierdie jaar. Toe doen ek ‘n lui ding en vra al die Afrikaanse joernaliste wat met boeke te doen het om hulle aanbevelings te gee sodat ek my krismislysie kan klaar skryf.

 

afr fiksie collageHerman Lategan

Skrywerjoernalis van Seepunt en outeur van die bundel Binnekring Van Spookasems.

Kamphoer, deur Francois Smith, is een van die beste boeke wat ek in Afrikaans die afgelope paar jaar gelees het. Myns insiens is dit is selfs beter as van die top internasionale Engelse literêre werke wat ek die onlangse dekade onder oë gehad het.

Dis ‘n verskriklike storie oor verkragting, verlies, oorlog, en wat dit is om ʼn weerlose mens en brose vrou in hierdie ongure omstandighede te wees. Een wat deur geweld, emosioneel en fisies, platgeslaan is, maar weer kon opstaan.

Hoe kan ʼn man dit skryf? Hoe kan ʼn man homself in die hart van ʼn vrou plaas? Maklik (en dis ʼn woord wat hier met wrang ironie gebruik word). Francois Smith skryf (as ʼn Afrikaanse man) met ʼn soveel deernis en patos oor ʼn vrou wat barbaars behandel is deur mans, omdat sy eie vrou (in die regte lewe) vermoor is.

Ek wil nie veel meer vertel nie, gaan lees die boek self, maar dis ʼn werk wat nog oor ʼn honderd jaar by ons breekbare menswees, en ons eie sin vir wat reg en verkeer is gaan aanklank vind. Ja, die lewe is hel, en die letterkunde laat ons opkyk na die hemel. Soos hier.

Murray La Vita

Profiel- en rubriekskrywer van Die Burger

Die magnificent Kaar deur Marlene van Niekerk en Antjie Krog se Mede-Wete.

Naomi Meyer

LitNet

Ek is inhoudsbestuurder van LitNet en hanteer ook dié webwerf se boekresensies. Dis heerlik en ook frustrerend – mens is geneig om die splinternuwe boeke na die resensente te jaag en dan eerste omtrent die boek te lees as wat mens noodwendig die kans kry om die boek self te lees.

Die twee Afrikaanse boeke van 2014 wat ek nog nie gelees het nie maar wat uitstaan as die moet-lees-boeke van die jaar is Kamphoer deur Francois Smith en Buys deur Willem Anker. Dié twee boeke lê reg vir my om oor die Kerstyd te lees. Die twee boeke wat ek egter wel vanjaar gelees het en ‘n groot indruk op my gemaak het was Winelands, wealth and work, saamgestel deur Kees van der Waal en Donker spoor deur Martin Steyn.

Winelands, wealth and work (UKZN Press): Dié (niefiksie) boek handel oor omstandighede in die wynlande, vertel die narratiewe van plaaswerker en boer, handel oor die tydsame geweld van eeuelange armoede, maar deel ook verhale van hoop. Hier is ‘n onderhoud met die samesteller: http://www.litnet.co.za/Article/onderhoud-winelands-wealth-and-work-transformations-in-the-dwars-river-valley-stellenbos

Donnay Torr

Redakteur van Taalgenoot en Hoezit!

Ek het twee Afrikaanse boeke wat vanjaar vir my uitstaan.

1000 Stories oor Johannesburg: ‘n Stadsroman deur Harry Kalmer (Queillerie)

Die boek is enduit boeiend, ‘n liefdesbrief aan Johannesburg wat ‘n mens inspireer om weg te sink in sy verhale en geskiedenis, goed of sleg. Kalmer se woorde leef, en die boek se trefkrag, vir my, lê veral in die emosies en gewaarwordinge wat die aanwakker. Dit is ‘n absolute gunsteling.

Binnekring van Spookasems: stories oor die lewe – Herman Lategan, saamgetel deur Amanda Botha (Jonathan Ball). Sjoe, ek het nie woorde vir hierdie boek nie. Ek ween elke keer as ek dit oopmaak om nog ‘n stukkie te lees – en nie noodwendig van hartseer nie.

Herman is ‘n fyn waarnemer van die menslike kondisie, ‘n kampioen vir die randfigure en sy gebruik en verstaan van Afrikaans is so mooi dat ek sommer depressief raak oor my eie vermoëns. Dit is ‘n wonderlike boek.

afr boeke collageNelia Richter

Assistentredakteur van Landbouweekblad, en boekeredakteur van Rapport in Weekliks

Roman: Kamphoer van Francois Smith. Dit was ook ’n groot jaar vir die Afrikaanse digkuns: Breyten Breytenbach se Vyf-en-veertig skemeraandsange en Antjie Krog se Mede-wete is van die sterkste digbundels wat verskyn het.

Valsrivier van Dominique Botha in 2013, een van die sterkste debuutromans van die afgelope dekade, het niemand kon dink nog ’n sterk debuut sou so gou daarop volg nie. Dit het wel gebeur: Francois Smith se Kamphoer. Dis ’n sensitiewe boek, oor ’n sensitiewe onderwerp. Smith se boek neem ’n geskiedkundige gegewe, Susan Nell se wrede verkragting in ’n konsentrasiekamp gedurende die Anglo-Boereoorlog. Die meesleurende beskrywing van die Vrystaatse landskap bevestig net dat van die land se grootste skrywers wortels hier het.

Melvyn Minnaar

Vryskutskrywer – kuns, kultuur en wyn

My stem is vir Nagmusiek van Stephanus Muller.

‘n Merkwaardige publikasie. Nie net ‘n huldeblyk aan Arnold van Wyk en sy musiek nie, ‘n ordening van sy oeuvre en beligting daarvan, maar ‘n tour de force wat betref metafiksie. Die problematiek van biografie driftig verbeel en verwoord, maar veral ‘n werk wat gelees wil word. Waarna jy smag om Van Wyk se musiek te hoor.

Helené Prinsloo

Adjunkredakteur: Books LIVE

Tussen boeke het ek heeltyd teruggekeer na die digbundel Solank verlange die sweep swaai deur Danie Marais. Iets omtrent die pretensielose eerlikheid en absolute toeganklikheid van sy verse het my keer op keer getref. Ook, diegene aan wie ek van dié verse voorgelê het, het saamgestem: Marais ontknoop ‘n spesifieke, onpeilbare emosie.

Ilse Salzwedel

Aanbieder en vervaardiger: Skrywers en Boeke by RSG

Woensdagaande tussen 20h00 en 21h00 op RSG, 100 tot 104 FM  – of luister aanlyn

Hoewel Valsrivier rondom die einde van 2013 gepubliseer is, het ek dit eers vroeg in 2014 gelees. Wat ʼn wonderlike boek! Ek het – soos alle boekwurms – ʼn “afsnypunt” in ʼn boek. Voor ek by daardie punt kom, moet ʼn skrywer my intrek, anders wil ek nie verder lees nie. So many books, so little time…) Gewoonlik is dit 10 bladsye, dalk 20 as ek goeie goed oor die boek gehoor/gelees het. Maar Dominique Botha het my aandag teen die helfte van bladsy een al ten volle gehad. Dit was ʼn kombinasie van die atmosfeer wat sy in die eerste paar paragrawe van kinderdialoog geskep het, en ragfyn woordspel, soos in die volgende sin: “Snags fladder die motte met bleek vlerkies teen die kartondeksel en lê stringe eiers soos snoere hekelkraletjies.” Soos ʼn honger leser het ek agter elke goedgekose woord aan gelees terwyl Valsrivier se mense soos familie geword het. Die boek verdien beslis elke prys wat dit verower het.

Dan wil ek ook noem dat ek vanjaar uitgeboul was met die gehalte van Afrikaanse misdaadfiksie. Afrikaanse uitgewers soos LAPA en die NB-groep kan hulself gerus op die skouer klop met die oes van skrywers wat in hierdie genres publiseer. Dis lankal nie net meer Deon Meyer en Chris Karsten wat naelbyt-speurverhale kan skryf nie. Ek kan ʼn hele paar boeke aanbeveel: Sondeboek (Irma Venter) Kopskoot (Rudi van Rensburg), Dubbelspel (Wilna Adriaanse), Die 13e kaart (Madeleine Rust), Donker Spoor (Martin Steyn) en Waar boosheid broei (Peet Venter). Al hierdie skrywers ken hul werk, en kan kers vashou by talle internasionale misdaadskrywers.

Elna van der Merwe

Herskrywer by Huisgenoot, YOU en DRUM en Huisgenoot-boekeredakteur

Dis swaar om net een boek te noem, want dit voel soos om een van jou kinders uit te sonder as jou witbroodjie. Maar laat dit dan Ester deur Kerneels Breytenbach wees. Dis ‘n lieflike liefdesverhaal vermeng met spioenasie, seks en stoomlokomotiewe. Dié Ester is so warm sy kan treinspore laat smelt…

 

 

REVIEW: Synapse

Synapse

SynapseSynapse

Antjie Krog

Human & Rousseau

ISBN: 9780798167901

Karina Magdalena Szczurek

Reading Antjie Krog’s latest volume of poetry translated into English, Synapse (Mede-wete in Afrikaans), I was faced with an old personal dilemma: How much hard work is too much in order to reach that moment where meaning and aesthetic pleasure reveal themselves to you as a poetry reader? I don’t have an adequate answer. Perhaps everyone’s threshold is different anyway. In the end all you have is your very individual frame of reference.

In any poetry volume you will find poems which will immediately speak to you. Others will require a specific key to unlock a feeling of appreciation. Rereading, research, or exploration of context will eventually reward your effort. Some poems will forever remain inaccessible no matter the amount of goodwill you put in. And then there will be those which will simply leave you cold. The poems in Synapse fit into all these categories.

The volume is divided into two parts: The Yard and Four Efforts in Linguistic Synapse Tracing. The first part opens with a series of epigraphs which are followed by thirteen poems, all focused on the images of the yard and the farm. These I find the strongest and most captivating in the book. In the epigraphs we are introduced to spaces in which the land and its ownership take centre stage and gender roles are clearly defined. The poems speak of the death of a patriarch, familial roots which reach into a troubled past, grief, guilt, race relations, and the ancient questions of owning and belonging.

As the poem 11. fossilised tree trunk makes clear, everything is connected, embedded, echoed throughout history. And yet, everything changes: “after all the years we gurgle (the only outlasting ones) / burdened with the dying light and bloodsick with heritage / : the new ones prepare to enter the yard” (13. old yard). At the heart of one’s relationship with the land are beauty and language: “places that could always snap my skeleton into language / coil me into voices bore into my entrails / expose a certain wholeness of belonging as my deepest tongue / tear chorales and something like discord from my brain” (6. live the myth).

This is the kind of poetry that leaves one gasping for air, which opens up new spaces in one’s understanding and feeling about the past and everyday reality in this country.

The Yard continues with poems which grapple with morality and reconciliation.The idea of interconnectedness is challenged in hold your ear to the tear in the skin of my country where already the format of the poem signals separate spheres of understanding the concept of forgiveness. The words of the speaker of the first section, Cynthia Ngewu, who testified in front of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about the murder of her son, one of the Gugulethu Seven, cascade onto the page like a waterfall. The neat couplets which follow represent an ordered attempt to understand the motives and worldviews of the officer who was involved in the killing. In the end, we are told, “it was futile to try to weave interconnectedness into / the concrete bunker that lives inside Mr Barnard’s whiteness”.

The bleakness of moving beyond such divisions is captured in miracle where South Africa’s relatively peaceful liberation is juxtaposed with present-day, all-consuming greed and violence: “we have become the prey of ourselves caught up / in ethnic avarice and total incapacity for vision”.

More intimate poems about ageing, memory, grand-motherhood, domesticity, or the I-you constellation of lovers reveal the wonders of the world along deeper philosophical questions about our capabilities and responsibilities. The tone ranges from sombre to light-hearted. Krog is one of the few poets out there who can smuggle Skype, wifi, the Internet and memory sticks into poetry and make them look as if they almost belonged. Also, when she swears, she makes it count.

The poem convivium astounds with its breadth: “what use my caress in the breath-earthed night if a centre- / less universe opens space in the nonexistent for dark / matter to overpower a few broken beads of light?” The poem, like the human body at the core of its universe, “tuneforks such abundance”.

Apart from a handful of exceptions, especially the Lament on the death of Mandela, the latter part of the volume, specifically the obfuscated Four Efforts in Linguistic Synapse Tracing left me baffled. The tightness and clarity of the preceding poems dissolved in musings where it became more and more difficult to follow the poet on her journey. The academic in me insisted I persevere and come to grips with the pieces, but the Sunday morning reader just wanted to return to the earlier poems in the collection or open another book.

  • This review first appeared in the Cape Times in December 2014.

QUICK REVIEW: Lamentation

lamentation-use

Lamentation

CJ Sansom

Mantle

ISBN: 9781447260257

Karin Schimke
lamentation-978144726025701

This is the sixth in Sansom’s Tudor detective series and neither his eye for historical detail, his knack for plot nor his empathy for his lawyer detective, the hunchback Matthew Shardlake, have diminished.

King Henry VIII is now an obese and wobbly man, barely able to walk two steps by himself, but his rule of terror remains. He is married to his sixth (and last) wife Catherine Parr, but even she isn’t free of the terror. She’s got herself into a pickle – quite innocently – of which the consequence could be burning at the stake. She needs her old friend Shardlake to help.

The plotting and grasping, the subterfuge and power struggles, the abject poverty and filth, the shocking wealth and wastages at court, the general ignorance (sound familiar, South Africa?) all remain, for me, the most fascinating aspect of the Shardlake series.

  • This review first appeared in the Cape Times in December 2014.

QUICK REVIEW: ADULTERY

cherries

Adultery-Paulo-CoelhoADULTERY

Paulo Coelho

Hutchinson

ISBN-13: 978-1101874080

Shirley de Kock Gueller

Although easy to read, Adultery leaves you wanting a little more. A depressed but happily married successful and rather self-indulgent Swiss journalist seeks just that, seeing herself as lonely in a rich and rewarding life. In aiming for more, she stands to take down those she loves.  When she meets an old beau, who is now a successful politician, and embarks on a delusional and disillusioning quest for a love, you wonder if her men are right when they tell her she needs a therapist for her depression.

Confusing lust and aggressive sex with what she perceives as romantic love, she undergoes an epiphany while paragliding above Interlaken and finds all is right with her world, husband and children.

If Coehlo’s life remains the primary source of inspiration for his books,I am somewhat at a lost where this fits in.

  • This review first appeared in the Cape Times in December 2014.

QUICK REVIEW: The Dig

dig_front_cover_2

dig_front_cover_2The Dig

Cynan Jones

Granta

ISBN-13: 978-1847088789

Karina Szczurek

Cynan Jones is a name to remember. The Dig is his fourth novel. It is an astounding piece of writing. Reading Jones one is reminded of the greats of English-language literature – Hemingway, Steinbeck or Virginia Woolf come to mind, each for different reasons. But Jones has a voice all his own. His prose is pure muscle and yet it conveys the most delicate of impressions and emotions. The Dig encompasses the best and worst of humanity. It tells the story of two men: a grieving Welsh sheep farmer and a brutal hunter involved in the illegal blood sport of badger baiting. The novel does not shy away from the horror of cruelty against animals, nor those moments which are unknowable, just before a life is extinguished. Yet it is most haunting when capturing what remains unsaid, as nature and life continue in the landscape of the human heart.

  • This review first appeared in the Cape Times in November 2014.