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REVIEW: Apocalypse Now Now

apocalypse now now

apocalypse now nowCharlie Human

Apocalypse Now Now

Umuzi

REVIEW: Ruth Browne

Speculative fiction is taking off in South Africa, and Charlie Human’s debut is a shot of adrenaline for the genre. African cyberpunk in the pulp magazine Jungle Jim, Sarah Lotz’s visions of the undead, the volatile mix of urban fantasy, sci-fi and Safa-slang in Laurne Beukes’ Moxyland and Zoo City: all these gather under the umbrella of “speculative” fiction, and our young and agitated democracy is the perfect springboard for the imagination. Whilst being cheerfully eviscerated at his book launch by his ex-supervisor, Beukes, Human said he drew inspiration from the tabloid headlines trussed to streetlight poles across Cape Town. He wanted to tap into the creative spirit behind news stories about Tokoloshes stealing babies, and the result was the lurid Apocalypse Now Now.

My first impression of this novel was that Human had forced a bunch of battered genres into joyless orgy in a back room at the Kimberley Hotel. I’m not the first critic to make the connection between the book and the grungy atmosphere at “Kimbos”, a venue Capetonians love to hate. Apocalypse Now Now is a back-and-forth narrative that hops from Claremont and Rondebosch to Philippi, Epping, Parow and somewhere off the East Coast on a fishing trawler. The anti-hero, Baxter Zevcenko, is a sociopathic schoolyard delinquent who thinks of his classmates as NPCs (a nerd acronym for “non-playing characters”). He runs a neat little start-up business at his high school, selling niche porn to students. As a Westerford alumnus, I can assure all readers that “Westridge” high school is definitely not Westerford. Not at all. The school’s constantly poised to erupt into gang warfare, and guns and hard drugs are always close to hand. At the same time, the hateful yet introspective Zevcenko suffers Boer War-era dreams narrated in italics and gets warm and fuzzy about his girlfriend, Esme, until she’s abducted by the Mountain Killer (krimi angle). Jackson Ronin is Baxter’s foul-mouthed, gun-loving, enraged, irresponsible mentor, who introduces him to Cape Town’s supernatural population of elementals, sprites, zombies and weirder things. Ronin’s a neo-noir hippy samurai with a side-order of Mr Miyagi, tasked with helping Zevcenko find his kidnapped girlfriend.

The one writer this novel really brought to mind was Peter Merrington, author of The Zombie and the Moon, an excellent, kaleidoscopic tale spanning continents, immersed in South African mythologies. Human also incorporates juicy local myths and legends, from Van Hunks (the dude who dealt with the devil, not the hipster bar) to sorcery with chicken blood. The distinctly Human elements include a military installation on Devil’s Peak and zombie strip-clubs that deal in human flesh. However, at times the story takes on a real Artemis Fowl feel. Human was portrayed as dark and adult at his launch, but some grisly Mengelesque scenes of experimentation and the odd zombie orgy aren’t always enough to shake the young adult vibe.

All that taken into consideration, however, the harsh, jocular tone of narration is engagingly informal, and it’s obvious Human had a good time writing this (when Lauren Beukes wasn’t ripping him a new one). Riddled with pop culture, bursting with cynicism and maniacal energy, Apocalypse Now Now is something you should buy and read. Do it.

  • This review first appeared in the Cape Times in Septemeber 2013

South Africa Crime fiction – the novel’s form as mediation of social conditions?

crimereader

OF-COPS-ROBBERS-MIKE-NICOL-9781415203767-197x300Of Cops and Robbers

Mike Nicol

Umuzi

By Leon de Kock

Mike Nicol’s new thriller, Of Cops and Robbers, got me thinking once again about the relation of ‘crime’ writing in and of South Africa to what one might call the ‘sociopolitical’ zone, that space which has traditionally engaged ‘serious’ writing ever since Olive Schreiner shook off the African exotic in the late nineteenth century and turned towards an approximation of social realism. Nicol’s thriller-novels, including this one, present a curious mix of, on the one hand, informed political – and historical – savvy, such as one would expect from a senior writer-journalist and commentator like this author, and then, on the other, a slew of generic thriller bon mots. These stylized typicalities of the genre – deadpan humour in the face of dead humans, dry witticisms signaling wised-up discernment about universally corrupt dealings – make for good thriller-reading. We should not be too eager to slam an author such as Nicol for doing what the genre demands, and doing it rather well, too.

If, however, one were reading more purposefully for sociopolitical content, and for formal innovation in line with such subject-matter – a tendency which Nicol’s novels invite, despite Nicol disclaiming any serious ‘political’ intent – then one might find these generic elements somewhat limiting. As some academic critics have argued, in Nicol’s case in particular, the generic tics limit the range and scope of representing individual subjectivity, and they foreshorten the novel’s ability to probe social formations beyond formulaic patterns. Rather than re-animate the serious-political-analysis versus the thriller-cliché argument – one which was widely aired following my SLiPnet review of Roger Smith’s novel Dust Devils in 2012 – I’d like here to avoid the starkly divisive terms of that particular debate and ask whether we might find some value in asking a different question, which is this: might the generic constraints of noir (which is essentially what Nicol writes) be seen to be a more rather than a less adequate form in which to capture key elements of a certain kind of politics? Upon reading Nicol’s Of Cops and Robbers, which I found both entertaining and viscerally offputting, both limiting and revelatory (in spite of Nicol’s evident mastery of form and fluidity of style), it struck me that one might read a novel such as this within a Lukacsian lens of novelistic form as a mediation of social conditions. I like to think of this mediating function as fictional adequation.

The question that arose for me was this: might it be true that the stunted emotional range, and the blunted motivational scope, of key characters in Nicol’s novel, serve as a necessary adequation of social conditions within an economy of severe moral cupidity? Two examples of key characters in Of Cops and Robbers are Jacob Mkezi and Dr Gold. Mkezi is a disgraced former police commissioner in the current ruling party who has turned to mafia-style big business (his peons routinely assassinate anyone with evidence against him), and his dealings here include the sale of a cache of rhino horns discovered in Angola. The rhino horns were harvested as part of dirty dealings in the South-African backed Angolan war against Swapo in the 1970s.

Further plot intricacies aside, the novel successfully links corruption within the current plutocracy in Pretoria with similar degeneration in the old Nationalist regime via a curious alliance between the ANC’s Mkezi and Dr Gold, based on the former Nationalist Finance Minister Dr Nico Diederichs, who is widely rumoured to have been implicated in illicit gold-bullion shifting to Zurich. In Of Cops and Robbers, a member of parliament with information about Dr Gold’s secret dealings is assassinated on the East Rand, along with his wife. This incident is based on the murders of Dr Robert Smit and his wife, Jean-Cora, also in the 1970s. The novelistic circumstances are quite deliberately set up as a parallel with the actual events of Smit and his wife’s murder.

The double-agent role of Mkezi, who profits from both the Nationalist and the ANC power bases, is not so much a direct parallel with actual events as a distillation of many cases in which such double-dealing can be shown to have occurred. Nicol’s novel also makes it plain that corrupt political dealings are a common theme in both the Nationalist and the ANC regimes.

The complex historical details here excavated, and their trails, which the reader can trace both backwards and forwards in political time and space, are adroitly handled. They make the novel interesting and readable, especially since Nicol integrates such socio-political coordinates within a cops-and-robbers form, not to put too fine a point on it.

Yes, the book is engaging, a ripping yarn and hard to put down (which is more than one can say for a lot of fiction), but how ‘true’ is it? This is the hard part. Indeed, one might run a postgraduate seminar on the question of ‘truth’ in fiction, the starting point being that ‘truth’ must always be an approximation, a certain adequation of form to content. The process of using certain conventions of form, with an accompanying vocabulary and style, might be seen to partially ‘capture’ or ‘shade in’ some but not all facets of any phenomenon or process. If one accepts this as a working proposition, then one might ask: what kind of particular shading-in does the crime-thriller offer for South African sociopolitical conditions, within a distinctly noir expression of its typical features? Think of Raymond Chandler, or Dashiell Hammett, to mention two classic examples, and the use of a markedly dry kind of savor faire to describe what amounts to the horrifying physical cruelty often evident in ‘casual’ killing. Why the driest of tones, the most deadpan wit imaginable, and a thoroughly offbeat (seemingly nonchalant) literary style, in describing such repugnant human acts? What ‘encoding’ or prior processing of morality, of a moral economy, is moulded into such stylized gestures?

Clearly, one might begin to find the answer in the ‘sophistication’ of the private eye – she or he has seen this too many times before to be too badly shaken. The PI has become hardened to an essentially degenerate urban or political scene, and his ‘noir’ responses encode a healthy skepticism about the possibility of human betterment, or any kind of optimism about social progress. This is the way it is. This is the dark side of modernity. Better to maintain a gruff, savvy, bleak sense of humour about it. The question arises, however, whether there isn’t more to the story than the story is able to tell, given the form?

Swing back to Mike Nicol and South African crime fiction in general, and the immediate observation one might make is that, mostly contra to classical noir, here the crooks are very often in government, or working for government (hence the ambiguity in Nicol’s title, which blurs the distinction between ‘cops’ and ‘robbers’). In South African crime fiction, the usually civil space of noir is significantly enlarged (although the cops in classical noir, also government lackeys, are by no means angels). Might one argue that in South African (and African) crime fiction, the government runs the mafia, rather than the other way around? It is an interesting speculation, despite exceptions to the rule, because it is precisely in such enlargement that overlaps between the generic thriller and the ‘political’ occur in current local crime fiction.

Instead of setting the one up against the other, as the debate so far has tended to do, might one not see the very use of ‘generic’ noir to capture (or annex) the political as a formal innovation, a distinct adequation of form (in a very particular generic expression) to social content? What such an adequation implies, in the baldest of terms, is that the current style of political machination (remember the recent case of Dina Pule?), just like the shady doings of Dr Gold (don’t forget Nat skelms like Dr Diederichs), don’t deserve much more than a noir response; that such human landscape is adequately rendered in a form which need not look too deeply into questions of individual subjectivity or characterological complexity. The moral economy of near-blind cupidity to which such behaviour subscribes is so hollowed out and debased that the hardboiled gesture is the characterisation it positively invites.

Certainly, such a conclusion accounts for the sheer satisfaction I often get when reading some of Nicol’s stories. Yes, this is what it deserves. Yes, that’s the truth of it. Yes, now he’s pinned the bastard down. But that’s just my feeling, both subjective and quasi-objective – based on my own lifetime’s worth of reading a country we call South Africa. And this is where the problem lies when assessing how ‘adequate’ any work of fiction is or might be to the truth – the answer lies not in an external assessment, but in an inner, readerly sense of how close to the mark the writer is, or could be.

Certainly, one can do factually-based comparisons, check the story against the archive, but that will not account for the ‘truth’ of style and form, which is always an approximation, a variable gauge.

This is why writers need lots of readers, lots of reviews, lots of discussion – so that a critical mass of reception might eventually indicate a kind of consensus, the way great works are known to be great by the force of continued attention. If writers like Nicol can continue to gauge the temperature of the social while also entertaining their readers, then it might be a good idea to keep reading them.

  • Leon de Kock is professor of English at Stellenbosch University.

REVIEW: The Quarry

The Quarry

The quarry1The Quarry

Iain Banks

Little Brown

REVIEW: Karin Schimke

Guy and his son Kit live in a ramshackle old house on the edge of a quarry.

This simple statement stretches to incorporate a universal truth with “ramshackle old house” standing in for “the body”, and “on the edge of a quarry” being a metaphor for the brief moment of consciousness wedged between our birth and our death.

Banks, however – at least when writing as Iain Banks and not the science-fiction writer Iain M. Banks – does his trade in big ideas not in the market place of vague concepts, but in the smallish inner rooms of domesticity and relationships. And so he narrows the action of The Quarry down to one setting, one weekend and one group of friends reunited, probably for the last time before Guy, who has cancer, dies.

For older readers this outline might recall memories of two movies: The Big Chill (made in the eighties) and Peter’s Friends, starring Stephen Fry, made in the UK in the nineties. Both were about a group of old friends coming together for a weekend in a big house.

The location and proximity between the characters at once highlight a shared history, a comfortable rapport and comradeship between the friends, while also showing how time has isolated them, has shoved each on to his or her own life trajectory, away from youthful hopefulness and a sense of belonging, towards the more solitary pursuit of making a life.

In each of those, as in The Quarry, death is the magnet that draws old friends together again. In The Quarry, death’s imminence lives fully and rudely on every page. This is partly thanks to Guy who rages – sometimes theatrically, but never pointlessly – against the premature dying of his own light, and partly because Kit seems to have Asperger Syndrome and doesn’t “do” euphemism.

“How’s Guy?” asks one of the friends who arrives for the weekend.

“Oh, still dying,” I tell her.

“Jeez, Kit” she mutters.

iain banks

Iain Banks, who died earlier this year.

Fans of Banks – and there are, for good reason, many of those – will know that this prolific writer died of cancer earlier this year. It is startling almost to the point of incomprehension that most of The Quarry was written before he was diagnosed with cancer of the gall bladder. In a sharp reminder of how comfortable Banks was with gallows humour – displayed in abundance in his last novel – he said in an interview before he died that it was typical of him to leave his research too late.

He did not have cancer while he was writing this book, and yet he captures its outrages and indignities, the laments it engenders, the rage it elicits, breathtakingly. Guy is a cantankerous old git, made so not by terminal illness, but by inborn arrogance and defiance. His character is a wonderful carrier for conveying the affront that cancer is.

Kit, his son and the book’s narrator, is eighteen, horny, odd, and a world master of a computer game.  The detailed descriptions of this parallel universe complement, contrast and accentuate – even satirise – the “real” world.

To Kit falls the unpleasant and thankless task of nursing his father, coaxing him to take his tablets, wiping his bottom, feeding him, all the while being abused and shouted at by his father.

The friends who come for the weekend are recognisable, even stereotypical: the stoner, the carer, the self-serving lawyer with political ambitions, the lovely but tiresomely zealous journalist and the ambitious couple. The supposed purpose of the weekend is to find one of the movies the group made together in their wild, spaced-out student days. The elusive tape gains monstrous proportions in their minds, but meanwhile, they are doing the sort of things old friends do: they carp and tussle, argue about politics, drink too much and go on a pointless expedition – decidedly more difficult with a dying man in tow.

Banks is exceptional at gathering odd characters together and making them talk. His dialogues – all the way through from The Crow Road, to Dead Air, to The Steep Approach to Garbadale, to Stonemouth – are bitty, bitchy and bolshie, often leaving the reader dizzy with amazement and amusement at the casually profound insights that come streaming in between the funny nonsense.

In The Quarry, there is much of that. I hesitate to say this about a writer I admire for precisely this, but almost too much. There are times when you want to walk out of the kitchen or the living room where they are all sitting, gabbling at one another along what are clearly well-established paths of thought for each of them, instead of engaging authentically in proper conversation.

Yet, this slight irritation contributes powerfully to the sense of closeness and claustrophobia already activated by the single-setting location, and also provides an antidote to the strong reminders of life’s brevity, of the pull of nihilism so amply underscored by the fact that the weekend’s action takes place on the rim of a quarry which soon will expand to suck in the house and all that it means to those who have lived there.

Banks has succeeded, sadly for the final time, in providing a close look at family and friends, at the comforts of atheism and pragmatism, at the big questions of morals and meaning and making-do in an imperfect, infuriating world.

QUICK REVIEW: Flower

111107FL_studio_flower_022

Flower

Andrew Zuckerman

Wild Dog Press

Review: Karin Schimke

Of Zuckerman’s photographic books the one that’s made the most impression is Wisdom, in which he photographs well-known older people against a backdrop and in light which is at once unforgiving and kind. Each wrinkle, nose hair and skin flap is vividly visible, along with his sitters’ absolute confidence that they are more than the sum of their flaws.

I did not imagine that a series of flowers captured against the same stark background and with the same scrutiny of lens could be quite as enthralling, and yet Flower blossoms for the viewer.Each bloom becomes imbued with character: monstrous, coy, wistful, humble, extravagant – as though dressed for a wedding – or lashes-down-eyes-up, like a young woman in love.

One wouldn’t think flowers would need a hand in making themselves lovable to humans, but Zuckerman manages to nudge them into the category “superlative”.

 

Umberto Eco’s list of lists

DSC01462

How interesting can a list be? In Eco’s hands, quite thrilling, and if you’re a fan of his writing you’ll know that he likes using lists in his novels.
Here he brings his fascination with catalogues together in a thick, glossy treasure that combs literature from Homer to Pablo Neruda, and James Joyce to Patrick Süskind to present the reader with an astounding number of “practical and poetic lists”. There are lists of angels and demons, the type of people who drink, the smells of Paris in the 18th century, ingredients for witches’ brew, the names of alchemical prima materia, and, well, etcetera – a word that here comes into its full meaning.
There are also “visual lists” – a great number of paintings which give form to the sense of infinities of things. Who can tire of such a catalogue? – Karin Schimke

The Inifinity of Lists

Umberto Eco

Maclehose Press

REVIEW: Karin Schimke

Joburg Jumble

DSC01265I spent last week in Joburg – and the weekend in Pretoria – for work. I grew up in the latter, and worked for two years in the former, just after democracy came to South Africa. Oddly, I haven’t been back to Joburg – except to pass through Oliver Tambo International Airport – for…well, actually, I can’t work it out, but I think maybe not since 1998. Can that be?

Joburg is big, loud, green, mad, garish, gorgeous and exciting. And Joburgers are fabulous. I am always wary of generalisations – especially those that seem to repeat a received wisdom – but I only had warm, funny, strong, intelligent interactions with the people I met.

Joburgers rock. They mix. They know. They do. They go.

Every night I dreamt the day’s happenings in mix of languages, in day-glo, in slow-mo, in detail. My brain was hyper-sponge, sucking in by day, squeezing out images in a steady stream by night.

Soon as I get time I’m going to post about some of my bookie experiences Jozi.

 

Ga-Zoom or Zike-Bike? Tripping into Dr Seuss

Possibly the most raggedy set of books in the house is the pile of Dr Seuss books on a shelf in the entrance hall. I like the scruffy aesthetic of the yellow and red spines. The other day, my daughter – who is ten and reads big, fat rather advanced novels for young adults – asked me to take them down for her to look at, because she can’t reach them where they are.

This reminded me of how, when the children were tots and other mothers came to the house with their own babes, they would get all tense and upset whenever their kidlets scooted over to the shelves on fat-nappied bottoms to pull out the books. This is inevitable. Books and babies are locked into a mysterious magnetic relationship. I just haven’t found any scientific study yet to confirm this. On more than one occasion the mothers would take the books out of the babies hands and I would reassure them that it wasn’t necessary.

“But aren’t you scared they get damaged?”

I’m more frightened by undamaged books. A pristine book is an unread book and frankly, that’s just a travesty.

I used to keep children’s books and adult paperbacks I wasn’t precious about on the lowest shelves. I still mostly do, even though we seldom have babies or toddlers around here anymore. I put them there so that they CAN be easily reached.

Pix of kids reading 002Anyhoo, back to the unreachable Dr Seuss books. I took the pile down and handed them to my daughter who settled them on her stomach on the couch and began to read. In between she told me that when she was little she used to fantasise and fervently wish that she could turn into a character in one of the books. Particularly, she’d always hoped to become, even just for a short while, Kitty O’Sullivan Krauss “in her big balloon swimming pool over her house”.Dr Seuss 002

We agreed frantically that actually it was hard to choose which Dr Seuss page you’d want to be on: take a drive in Bumble-boat with Marvin K. Mooney? Indulge in some Schlopp? Schlopp. Beautiful schlopp. Beautiful schlopp with a cherry on top? Be in one of the various Dr Seuss 001fantastical vehicles that go to the Right?

Tripping into, through and on Dr Seuss is one of those pleasures you can never outgrow.

REVIEW: The Land Within

The Land WithinThe Land Within

Alistair Morgan

Penguin

REVIEW BY: Aly Verbaan

FORGET about the protracted and meandering opening pages that are often territory of the South African farm novel. Alistair Morgan cuts to the chase with this first line from The Land Within: “He had always associated the farm with the smell of death.”

The reader is both warned and bewitched on page one. This technique also worked well in Morgan’s award-winning debut novel, Sleeper’s Wake (2009), which opened with the equally captivating “When I woke up they had to remind me that I’d been in an accident”.sleepers wake

Morgan circumvents lengthy descriptions by constructing the scene as we read rather than as a precursor to the action.

Farm novels are the dominion of many Southern African writers: Eve Palmer’s The Plains of Camdeboo, Alexandra Fuller’s Let’s Not Go to the Dogs Tonight or, a personal favourite, Etienne van Heerden’s Leap Year. And let’s not forget Marlene van Niekerk’s epic, Agaat. At just 155 pages, The Land Within is perhaps more of a farm novella than a novel, but it is precisely this sparse and honed method that keeps the word count down while maximising the story’s impact.

Henry Knott and his heavily pregnant wife Marian have been visiting Henry’s cancer-riddled father in Graaff-Reinet — a Karoo village some 700km from Cape Town —  with its tiered mountains that seem  to touch the cerulean sky, but if there is serenity to be found there, it won’t be Henry who finds it.

Philip Knott has one last wish — he is “Wither[ing] against the cruel behest of cancer”— and would like nothing more than to be buried in the family farm’s cemetery. Except the land is no longer in the hands of his family. And Philip’s son Henry has no desire to revisit it, because, as a psychologist, he is fully aware that the land within his skull still has the horsepower to drag him across this harsh and untamed terrain, leaving him impaled on the ubiquitous and deceptively named Soetdoring (literally: sweet thorn).

But Henry and Marian do visit the old farm in the hope that the new owners will assent to such an arrangement. However, Henry’s mother Paula has pipped them to the post: the farm’s new owners have received a letter from her specifically asking them to turn down any such request by Philip. The reason, she says, is that Philip Knott is no longer linked to his ex-wife lineage of the Dunbar family, whose cemetery is on what is now Kabelo and Ayanda Mahlangu’s land.

Here Morgan has subtly and ingeniously introduced a universal question – but all the more germane to South Africa – of land ownership and the graves of ancestors. One could go as far as to say this is the crucible of combat.

At this juncture, the reader realises that Morgan is about to turn what has gone before on its head. The farm’s new owners are in the process of remodelling the farm as a hotel, although it is clear to all that it is foundering. Yet, he must come cap in hand to speak to the new man of the house. Kabelo is not prepared to go against Henry’s mother’s wishes, and the two spend some time deliberating on what is to be done.

Meanwhile, Kabelo’s wife Ayanda insists the couple stay the night, and here is the nexus between the child Henry and the grown psychologist of twenty years later.

We know from the opening sentence that there are dark secrets the farm has held hostage, and Henry has no wish to release them. As he examines himself it becomes apparent to him that it isn’t the farm that needs exploring: it’s the recesses of his mind, where he now discovers these secrets were merely repressed, not exorcised. Neither the young Henry nor the adult Henry has ever felt quite grounded, or not enough to face his fears. The young boy he thought he was and the man he is now are doomed to always fall short of their own credos, but just how badly, we wonder. We sympathise with Henry: he is as ensnared between the impending death of his father and the envisaged birth of his son.

Muted red herrings abound and when the final “red herring” makes its appearance, you will feel like slapping yourself with it.

By now we are waiting with bated breath for anything from an ancestor to a basilisk to appear in order to break the mounting tension.

There are small creases in an otherwise taut mural: no light relief, a few incidents where we are required to suspend disbelief slightly, an overly visceral rendition of Henry’s pregnant wife’s vulva. But Morgan is a master raconteur; a writer who knows what is needed where to hold our attention. It’s all in the timing.

This review first appeared in the Cape Times in January 2013

 

QUICK REVIEW: Cape Town

Cover_Noakes_printCape Town

Kate Noakes

Eyewear Publishing

REVIEW BY: Sarah Rowland-Jones

Anyone who has looked beyond Cape Town’s tourist traps will smile in recognition at these closely observed poems about the city and wider environs.

A five-month work stint in early 2011 proved a fruitful time for the Welsh poet, Kate Noakes, whose third collection this is.  Her sometimes subversive eye found rich resources in the place, its past and present politics, and life, whether human, animal or avian.

Poems range from ‘a yard of silver’ snoek to the ‘Green and yellow blanket man’ begging aggressively in Long Street, from hadedas ‘plagued with smoker’s cough’ to quagga and zebra ‘bar-coded for its foals to find home’, from forced removals and dislocated homing pigeons, to fracking and HIV transmission.  Noakes employs a deft touch, vivid imagery, and frequent humour.

This elegantly printed hardback is an empathetic, thought-provoking invitation to view our city with fresh eyes. – Sarah Rowland-Jones

This review first appeared in the Cape Times in December 2012.

Here’s what others had to say about Kate Noakes’ poems (from the Eyewear website).

Kate Noakes’ Cape Town poems command our imaginative attention with all the power that the crossroads and lawns, wastelands and landscapes of “fateful convergence” commanded hers, a visitor from a hemisphere away. Like the stargazers in her ‘Kruger Nocturne’, “scanning until our retinas gave away”, Noakes writes with an acute sense of atmosphere reminiscent of the photographs of David Goldblatt, capturing sharply the urgency of the present in tandem always with the long echoes of history.
— Jane Draycott

Kate Noakes’ Cape Town takes us on her journey through a landscape that is both engaging and alien, a population at times aggressive, at times welcoming and an intriguing bestiary that includes the almost extinct Quagga zebra – “Each animal uniquely patterned,/bar-coded
for its foals to find home”. This is a collection which engages the Rainbow Nation and its radiantly colourful country with a purposeful eye.
— Tony Curtis

 

QUICK REVIEW: Swimming Home

swimming-homeSwimming Home

Deborah Levy

Faber & Faber

REVIEW BY: Aly Verbaan

PLUNGING right in, Deborah Levy presents a small ensemble of holiday-makers convened around a pool in the south of France — world-famous poet Joe and his frosty wife, Isabel, fellow guests Mitchell and Laura, hippie houseboy Jurgen, and the alluring extra, Kitty Finch — and then she deconstructs them, skinning back layers and exposing one intramural after another. Kitty is mentally volatile (and regularly naked in public). She’s off her meds, and is possibly stalking Joe, in the hope that he will cast his eye over a poem she’s written, but he invents convenient schemes not to, even as he finds himself seduced by her. Their sexual fender-bender is inexorable, and just how they intersect each other and what repercussions their irresponsible navigations bring generates disconcerting traction.

Levy’s Booker-shortlisted story of tedious Brits-in-Biarritz is rescued from the pedestrian by its succinctness — at just 150 pages it could be a novella. But it is no less cogent for its brevity — it hovers like a bee, and stings like one too.

This review appeared in the Cape Times in 2012