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Nadine Gordimer has announced her retirement from fiction writing: fb.me/2NvjKm0dR

Andrew Donaldson: Icelander and Stuffness

By Andrew Donaldson for The Times

Someone to Watch Over MeIF YOU READ ONE BOOK THIS WEEK

Someone to Watch Over Me, by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir (Hodder & Stoughton)

In the fifth in Sigurdardóttir’s Thora Gudmundsdóttir series the lawyer comes to the aid of a young man with Down’s syndrome who has been convicted of burning down his care home and killing five residents. Ignore the rubbish about “Iceland’s answer to Stieg Larsson”; this is way better – terrifying and compelling.

THE ISSUE

The great forgotten American novel has been in the news again, particularly Stoner, by John Williams (1965).

What of forgotten South African novels begging rediscovery? One that comes to mind is Sylvester Stein’s bitterly funny 1958 masterpiece, Second Class Taxi. Its protagonist, Staffnurse Phofolo, is “idle and undesirable”, and courts immediate arrest for having no pass. Not that he’s bothered; he has a warm greatcoat and a drain pipe he calls home. But real life comes calling in the form of various do-gooders – liberals, church people and, of course, the ANC (thinly disguised as the African Congress of Equality). Readers are urged to hunt down “Stuffness” (as he’s often called). He’s unforgettable.

CRASH COURSE

Self-proclaimed grandmaster of Hindi crime fiction Surender Mohan Pathak’s 300 or so novels have sold some 25 million copies. Which is not bad for an author only sold at platform stalls at India’s railway stations. Bookstores won’t stock his work – despite a near-fanatical following among third-class travellers.

“Educated people in India don’t want to read Hindi and they certainly won’t be seen dead with one of my books,” Pathak told The Times of London recently. With the recent English translations of three Pathak titles, The Last Goal, Daylight Robbery and The 65 Lakh Heist, he is, however, now attracting the attention of literati with a penchant for slumming.

For an idea of the style of Pathak and others, The Times published this pithy extract from Sudhandira Sangu’s 1933 guide, The Secret of Commercial Novel Writing: “(1) The title of the book should carry a woman’s name – and it should be a sexy one like Miss Leela Mohini. (2) Your story must absolutely include a minimum half-dozen lovers and prostitutes [and] preferably 10 or a dozen murders. (3) If you try to bring any social messages, forget it. Beware! You are not going to lure your women readers.”

THE BOTTOM LINE

“Despite all the powers of contemporary science, the seemingly straightforward anatomical question, is there a G spot? remains unanswered.” – What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, by Daniel Bergner (Ecco/HarperCollins)

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