Finding Soutbek, the debut novel from writer Karen Jennings, levels a quiet impact. The novel tells the story of the small town of Soutbek, a forgotten coastal town somewhere in South Africa. It is a place that, in many ways, is still informed by the past – the upper town destitute, the lower town rich, mostly unaware of the predicaments their neighbours find themselves in.
Despite disaster after disaster, hope is rekindled when the town’s mayor reveals a welcomed discovery – but can this hope last? Finding Soutbek is a gentle reminder of how history has the ability to shape as well as distort lives; of how people driven together, can be the fiercest of contestants.
Karen Jennings’ first novel is notable for its subtle and elegant use of language. It is a strong, character-driven story that establishes a fictional world which feels at once dystopian, as it does real. The restraint in tone is both a strength and weakness of the book as the narrative drive slows towards the end of the book. No matter, this well-researched and well-written story shows a new South African writer with promise and conviction.
Finding Soutbek’s shadow remains long after the book has been shut.
- This review first appeared in Art Much? The UJ Arts & Culture Magazine (University of Johannesburg).