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Archive for the ‘International’ Category

“I wanted to create a love story that was real, true to life, flawed and challenging.” Amanda Prowse on writing Anna: One Love, Two Stories

Published in the Sunday Times

Anna: One Love Two Stories
Amanda Prowse, Head of Zeus, R255

I loved writing the book Anna, I found her a likable, relatable character and it felt like a joy to spend each day with her. I had decided to base some of her struggles and hardships on my own childhood and I think one thing that surprised me was how much I was affected by this.

Anna got under my skin, stayed with me and I found myself concerned for her. People who have read Anna have said she stays with them too and that they feel great warmth and affection for her, so I suppose though it was emotionally challenging, it helped add depth to her character on the page.

One thing I love most about this book is how much Anna’s life feels true and though some moments are quite harrowing, these are quickly followed by others which will make you laugh out loud and, for me, this is life – I think if you can learn to laugh through the bad times it somehow gives you strength to keep going. Anna’s is a love story and when she falls in love with Theo, she finds fulfilment.

We know all the things that Anna has lived through [having spent most of her life in a care home, wanting love] and we know what has shaped her. But, just as in real life, we do not know what things have shaped the person fall in love with and this is certainly the case with Theo.

We will them to work as a couple, cheering them on from the rooftops and praying that the two young people, despite being from such different backgrounds, can find a way to overcome all their demons and make this relationship work.

I wanted to create a love story that was real, true to life, flawed and challenging but also with the fairy-tale elements that make a romance like Anna’s so magical. I hope I have achieved this. Anna is without doubt one of the characters who will forever live in my heart and mind.

When writing the book, I based the character of Theo’s mother on a friend of my mother’s and I cannot tell you how funny it was when she made a particular point of mentioning to me how much she disliked the character! I guess it’s true what they say; we really don’t know how others see us. This is certainly the case with Anna, who sees herself as an ordinary girl but I think you will agree after having read the books that she is really quite extraordinary.

Anna

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Theo


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Book Bites: 13 May

Published in the Sunday Times

The Force
****
Don Winslow, Harper Collins, R205

What makes a good cop good at his job? Courage? Intelligence? Bravery, empathy, toughness? Detective Sergeant Denny Malone and his elite team, dealing with drugs, guns and gangs in New York, have all those qualities. What characterises a bad cop? Theft, dishonesty, accepting bribes, violence? Collusion? Murder? He and his team are guilty of all those as well. The Force describes in riveting detail how these contradictions are possible, even inevitable. Malone came from a police family, and joined as a young idealist, determined to do good. In the face of injustice and systematic corruption, he started crossing the line, one step at a time. Eventually caught, Malone is prepared to admit his own crimes, but the Feds want him to betray his friends, his contacts and his mentors. Set against a background of imminent racial conflagration and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, it is simply excellent. Aubrey Paton

Night Moves
***
Jonathan Kellerman, Headline, R300

Psychologist Alex Delaware is called by his old LAPD pal, Milo Sturgis, to a home in upscale Pacific Palisades. Inside the house is a corpse with no hands, no face and no blood. And a family who are certain they don’t know the victim who appeared in their den while they were out. Night Moves is Kellerman’s 33rd Delaware thriller and, as ever, he delivers sharp prose, intelligent plots and sleazy characters. A solid, enjoyable thriller, the novel’s real strength lies in the relationship and banter between Delaware and Sturgis. That’s really what his fans are after, and Kellerman delivers with class. Russell Clarke @russrussy

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The Sunday Times Literary Awards shortlist announced

After months of extensive reading, careful evaluation and fierce deliberation it is finally time to reveal the shortlists for South Africa’s most prestigious book awards, the Alan Paton Award for non-fiction and the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize, in association with Porcupine Ridge. The winners, who will each receive R100 000, will be announced on Saturday June 23.

Alan Paton Award

Chair of judges Sylvia Vollenhoven comments: “When nations sink into division and despair creativity points to a way forward. The collective power and style of the five authors (three of them women) on this year’s shortlist represent the finest artistic vision for the future. Literary flair is coupled with excellent research that takes us into places we need to visit. Exploring recent history a remarkable opus dissects Zimbabwe like no other, the man who founded the ANC is honoured in all his complexity and we get to know exactly why we owe the former Public Protector such a huge debt of gratitude. Balancing the political with the personal, two achingly beautiful memoirs give us deep insight into the family terrain where all our horrors and delights originate.”

Kingdom, Power, Glory – Mugabe, Zanu and the Quest for Supremacy, 1960-1987, Stuart Doran (Sithatha Media/Bookstorm)

The judges voted quickly and unanimously to shortlist this massive book. It is an exhaustive, meticulously detailed history of Zimbabwe’s formative years that draws on previously classified information and throws new light on such events as the Gukurahundi massacres. One judge called it: “Monumentally researched, monumentally annotated and evidenced, and monumentally impressive.”

No Longer Whispering to Power – The Story of Thuli Madonsela, Thandeka Gqubule (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

The biography of the former public prosecutor reminds us of the enormous impact she made during her seven years of tenure. Gqubule reveals details of Madonsela’s life, as well as her investigations, findings and their consequences, in what one judge described as “an energetic, passionate whirl of words.”
 
 
Always Another Country: A Memoir of Exile and Home, Sisonke Msimang (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

The judges regarded Msimang’s memoir to be one of the best entries in terms of style. It charts her way from childhood through multiple identities and roles, beginning with her early years in exile in Zambia and Kenya, young adulthood and college years in North America, and returning to South Africa in the 1990s.
 
 
The Man Who Founded the ANC: A Biography of Pixley ka Isaka Seme, Bongani Ngqulunga (Penguin Books)

The panel hailed this biography as an important part of Afrocentric history, an even-handed and scholarly study of a complex man and the conflicting and fluctuating strains of Pan Africanism and Zulu chauvinism. Seme was just 30 when he founded the organisation, but he eventually brought it to its knees.
 
 
Colour Me Yellow: Searching For My Family Truth, Thuli Nhlapo (Kwela Books)

Shunned by her paternal family while growing up, journalist Thuli Nhlapo embarked on a painful journey to find her “true” identity. The judges were moved by its brutal honesty, finding in her story the roots of so much of the nation’s dysfunction, “a smaller story illuminating a greater picture.”
 
 
 
Barry Ronge Prize

Judging chair Africa Melane says: “The authors on this list help us search for truth, which is often unsettling and uncomfortable. There are stories of love and loss, of lives not yet lived and those long forgotten. Our history narrates heartbreak and pain, and we learn how to carry our past in our souls. The pulsating veins of our cities are laid bare through deeply personal accounts and there is a fearlessness in addressing controversial issues. The works are thought- provoking, unflinching and disturbing at times, but very compelling. Every read has been immensely rewarding.”

Softness of the Lime, Maxine Case (Umuzi)

Set in the Cape of Good Hope in 1782, and drawing on Case’s own family history, the story traces the relationship between a wealthy Dutch settler and his young slave. The judges admired the fluent writing and vivid sense of place.
 
 
 

A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg, Harry Kalmer (Penguin Books)

Kalmer probes the lives of a handful of disparate characters including the exiled, those returning from exile, and those who never left, casting back a hundred years and bringing the narrative right up to date. This richly faceted portrait of Jozi was applauded for its originality and finely observed writing.
 
 

The Third Reel, SJ Naudé (Umuzi)

Described as “intense, intelligent and accomplished”, Naudé’s unsettling novel is set in London and Berlin in the 80s and centres on a young man, Etienne, who has fled conscription in South Africa. It is an intense love story as well as a quiet exploration of film, architecture, music and art.
 
 

Bird-Monk Seding, Lesego Rampolokeng (Deep South Publishers)

Rampolokeng’s third novel is a stark portrait of a Groot Marico township two decades into South Africa’s democracy. Innovative and violently sensory, one judge noted that he “brandishes his scatting be-bop voice like a fearsome weapon” as he renders the resilience of people marked by apartheid.
 
 

The Camp Whore, Francois Smith, translated by Dominique Botha (Tafelberg)

Based on the true story of a young woman who was raped and left for dead in a concentration camp during the Anglo-Boer War. She manages to recover and dedicates her life to healing trauma, but in the process comes face-to-face with her attacker. “An inspiring character and a deeply skilful, atmospheric story,” noted the panellists.
 

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Savagely funny but serious, cynical and sanguine and whippingly plotted – Michele Magwood reviews Mick Herron’s fifth novel featuring the greedy gaseous lunk, Jackson Lamb

Published in the Sunday Times

London Rules
*****
Mick Herron, John Murray, R295

One of the authors I’m most looking forward to meeting at the Franschhoek Literary Festival next week is Mick Herron. The British writer has been quietly turning out a series of spy novels that have built something of a cult following. With London Rules, his fifth, it looks like he’s reached the tipping point onto the mainstream radar.

The plain cover of the book obscures a rare combination of wit, plot, affecting writing and vivid characterisation. It is savagely funny but serious, cynical and sanguine and whippingly plotted, veering from small human vignettes to huge public events.

Jackson Lamb is the axis of the series, a great greedy gaseous lunk who lives on Chinese takeaways and tumblers of Scotch. He’s a washed up Cold War operative who has been shut out of MI5 and put in charge of a band of disgraced spies, the so-called “slow horses”. They are stabled in a decaying building called Slough House where they eke out their days sifting through statistics and drinking weak tea.

There’s Catherine Standish, a recovering alcoholic, who Lamb teases by pouring her drinks; River Cartwright, scion of a legendary MI5 family who screwed up spectacularly; Shirley Dander is a cokehead with anger problems; Louisa Guy is paralysed by grief for her dead partner; and JK Coe is a psychologist with post-traumatic stress disorder, who hides under a hoodie with buds in his ears. And then there is the deliciously awful Roddy Ho, genius hacker and delusional narcissist.

When a terrorist cell erupts into a string of attacks, evidence points to Ho having unwittingly passed information to his girlfriend. And so the slow horses are dragged reluctantly into the action, because the first of the London Rules, as everybody knows, is Cover Your Arse.

Herron presents a sharply contemporary view of the UK that at times borders on libel: the populist Brexiteer politician (and secret cross-dresser) Dennis Gimball and his harpy columnist wife, Dodie; the Muslim politician Zafar Jaffrey, in the running to be mayor of the West Midlands, who has some worrying cohorts, and a vain and weak prime minister concerned only with his image.

As the terrorists strike again and again, the intelligence services get help – almost by accident – from the farcically inept Slough Housers.

Their bickering is blistering but it’s Lamb who gets the best lines. He asks Louisa for an educated guess; when she replies he barks, “I said educated. That guess left school at 15 for a job at Asda.”

Lamb turns to Coe: “You’re the one who gets panic attacks, right? Behind you! Just kidding.” He compares ethical behaviour to “a vajazzle on a nun. Pretty to picture, but who really benefits?”

Padding through the action, and lifting the book to another plane is some arresting description of the hours of the day passing.

“In some parts of the world dawn arrives with rosy fingers, to smooth away the creases left by night. But on Aldersgate Street … it comes wearing safe-cracker’s gloves, so as not to leave prints on windowsills and doorknobs; it squints through keyholes, sizes up locks, and generally cases the joint ahead of approaching day.”

Herron has, of course, been compared to John le Carré and Graham Greene but he is entirely, subversively, unique. @michelemagwood

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And our sunshine noir author for May is … Paul Mendelson!

A new month calls for a new sunshine noir author sending shivers down the spines of local thriller fans…

This month, the co-author of the popular Detective Kubu series, Michael Sears, had the opportunity to interview Paul Mendelson for The Big Thrill – the magazine for international thriller writers.

Paul Mendelson, author of Apostle Lodge. ©The Big Thrill.

 
Here’s what the two thriller aficionados chatted about:

Paul Mendelson is a man of many talents: writer, interviewer, actor, script-writer for theatre and television. He is also an expert on bridge and poker, and has written more than a dozen books as well as regular newspaper columns about them.

Mendelson is passionate about South Africa and he’s been visiting Cape Town for 25 years, so when he decided to write a crime fiction novel, he chose Cape Town as the setting.

“The cultural and political background of the country is fascinating for an author and, despite my characters seemingly facing increasing problems, I remain optimistic for South Africa…” he says.

His debut Vaughn de Vries thriller – The First Rule of Survival – was described by Lee Child as: “An excellent, uncompromising crime thriller made even better by its setting.” The First Rule of Survival was an immediate success and was shortlisted for the most prestigious U.K. crime fiction award. It was followed in 2015 by The Serpentine Road and The History of Blood in 2016.

Last year the fourth in the series, Apostle Lodge, came out. A group of boys discover the body of a woman who seems to have been abused and then starved to death in an empty house, Apostle Lodge. Because of the circumstances, Vaughn immediately suspects that it’s not a single crime but part of a series. He finds it hard to attract the focus the crime deserves because a terrorist bomb blast has recently shaken Cape Town and the police are hunting for the perpetrators. As the cases progress, Vaughn finds himself sucked personally into both of them.

If you think serial killer thrillers are formulaic, Apostle Lodge will change your mind. It’s a very different and intriguing take on the subgenre.

Vaughn de Vries’ motivation is justice for the victim. That doesn’t make him an unusual detective, but the fact that it’s his only focus does – he’s not even concerned with the pain of the victim’s family, only in what they can tell him to help him solve the case. Was this where you started with him as a character? Does the rest of his personality develop pretty well inevitably from there?

When I read crime literature, I really enjoy series of books. I find the re-appearance of characters I know reassuring, and the development of the major characters over a long period of time to be fulfilling, in the same way that friendship builds, and you learn more about the person you are fond of.

This is really how it has been with Vaughn de Vries. He is a man engulfed in turmoil yet, strangely, he is at peace with it. In The Serpentine Road, he tells his boss: “You know me, sir: death gets me up in the morning.” He’s only partly joking. He has had twenty years of fulfilling marriage, brought up two daughters, been a policeman in the traumatic death-throws of apartheid heralding the brighter but still troubled times of the new South African democracy and, now he has found what he lives for. Not stability, not sex or alcohol – for which he has barely controlled, unhealthy appetites – but justice for victims. In one way, he is entirely happy in his work; in another, the new world disorients and frustrates him. I think, as the second decade of the new millennium rolls on with the political interference and the all-consuming corruption of the Zuma regime, he has become ever more blinkered, still more focused on that which absorbs him – the pursuit of justice. He just wants to work and be left alone. Perhaps President Ramaphosa will support the SAPS better?

Apostle Lodge is a serial killer story, but it’s quite unlike others I’ve read in the genre. The focus is the damage not only to the murdered victims and the ones who escape, but also to the profilers and others tasked with dealing with such psychopaths on a regular basis. What interested you in this aspect?

I think it is easy to forget that for every attack, every murder we write about, there are victims beyond the character portrayed: their family and friends, the police officers who deal with the crime. I have spoken with homicide detectives both in South Africa and in the UK and it is clear to me that these people’s lives have been changed irrevocably, that their work affects every aspect of their lives: their relationships, their ability to sleep, to relax, to fantasize, to engage with others. I have scarcely met a police officer who does not rely on some form of drug, be it alcohol, nicotine, recreational drugs, or sex addiction to get through their relentless shifts.

So I wanted to be mindful of this aspect of such an investigation. I think if you focus too much upon grief it can become relentless and wearing for the reader, but to ignore it would be doing the often invisible characters who inevitably inhabit such situations an injustice.

Grace Bellingham, a psychological profiler, is worn out by her exposure to stalkers, rapists and killers. At the beginning of Apostle Lodge she opines that perhaps evil is nothing more than a minute distortion of the human brain. However, the actions of the perpetrators is undoubtedly evil and their remorselessness and pride in their actions must be incredibly shocking. To live and work in their world takes a toll none of us can truly appreciate.

Continue reading their conversation here.

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“An enigmatic examination of shifting taste and permissiveness – social and personal.” Russell Clarke reviews Alan Hollinghurst’s The Sparsholt Affair

Published in the Sunday Times

The Sparsholt Affair
***
Alan Hollinghurst, Picador, R330

Divided into five fairly distinct, yet linked sections, each with its own set of characters, time-frame and worldview, Hollinghurst’s newest novel is as enigmatic as the author. A self-professed loner who secludes himself for long periods while writing, The Sparsholt Affair is only his sixth novel in nearly 30 years.

Part one introduces us to Oxford in 1940, when David Sparsholt arrives at the university for a single term before embarking on a military career. His arrival causes commotion, owing to his outstanding beauty and physical prowess, particularly among a group of friends who first spy David exercising in his rooms. Engaged to Connie, Sparsholt becomes a preoccupation for this group of gay men (though they wouldn’t have called themselves that in the ’40s). David is clearly not unaware of his beauty, nor entirely impervious to the approaches of his admirers.

Part two fast-forwards to 1966, a year before homosexuality is decriminalised in Britain, where we meet our new narrator, Johnny – David’s son. Young Johnny is obsessed with a French exchange student placed with the Sparsholts, Bastien, and spends much time frustrated by Bastien’s beauty and disregard for Johnny’s existence. Another family is holidaying with the Sparsholts, and it is soon clear there is an affair between David and his male colleague, to which their wives are not oblivious.

Parts three and four move the action into London in the ’70s and ’80s, and Johnny’s burgeoning life as a painter and his discovery of an increasingly open gay life. Also revealed is David’s involvement, in 1967, in the eponymous Sparsholt Affair. Hollinghurst never fully reveals the detail of the scandal, but it appears to haunt David who retreats into an ever-more conservative world, and marries his secretary after his marriage to Connie, Johnny’s mother, ends. Even more problematically, the scandal haunts Johnny, whose family name never fails to raise eyebrows, even decades later. After all, books were written about the scandal. Johnny, if it isn’t clear by now, is also gay.

The final part of the novel introduces us to Johnny’s daughter, and moves the narrative fully into the 21st century, replete with hook-up apps, online porn, and more freedom.

The Sparsholt Affair is impossible to categorise with any neatness. The five-part structure, which begins with a certain formality, falls away so that by the end it is a far looser book than that which one had begun reading.

Hollinghurst’s power lies in his ability to see the fine details of lives, and his understanding and layering of the broad sweep of history and human change over that. The Sparsholt Affair is an examination of shifting taste and permissiveness – social and personal. It’s difficult to decide whether the book is enjoyable or not, peopled by so many characters and covering so many years. Perhaps the uncertainty is Hollinghurst’s intention. Russell Clarke @russrussy

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Book Bites: 29 April

Published in the Sunday Times

A Book of American Martyrs
****
Joyce Carol Oates, HarperCollins, R290

Who the martyrs in this book are is not entirely clear. Although it initially seems that the narrative centres on the dividing line between pro-choice and pro-life, Oates adeptly teases out the complexities. The plot is driven by the murder of Gus Voorhees, a doctor providing abortions in Muskagee Falls, Ohio. The perpetrator, Luther Dunphee, believes he has been chosen by God to “defend the defenceless”. With Voorhees dead and Dunphee imprisoned, the wives and children of these men are rendered widowed, a single parent and fatherless: martyrs. An interrogation of grief, courage, religious fundamentalism, abortion and family relations, this is one of Oates’s finest creations. Chantelle Gray @CGrayvH

The Tattooist of Auschwitz
*****
Heather Morris, Zaffre, R270

Based on the true story of Lale and Gita Soklov, Slovakian Jews who survived Auschwitz and finally made Australia their home. One of the most horrific symbols in the Nazi death camps was the blue numbered tattoos. Lale was given the job of tattooing prisoners marked for survival. With a rare amount of freedom, he bargained his way through the camps and tried to help the imprisoned. His courage and determination to survive is already powerful, but add in meeting the love of his life in the camp, Gita, who was waiting to be tattooed, and you’ve got a book that will likely make your best reads list. Jessica Levitt @Jesslevitt

Bitter
****
Francesca Jakobi, Orion, R295

It’s 1969 and Gilda has worn white and a net veil to her son Reuben’s nuptials – symbolic of the toxic relationship she has with him. Then you get to know the complex Gilda; how she was unceremoniously sent to boarding school in England by her unfeeling German parents. The chapters are short between past and present and Jakobi’s imagery transports you from bombed London streets to the anything-goes vibes at the end of the swinging ’60s, from the severe colours of war to the colourful dresses and freedom of the flyaway bob. You get to know why Gilda left Reuben, why she is stalking his wife, and why she is so alone. A terrifying and poignant portrait of a lonely woman. Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

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2018′s Women’s Prize for Fiction favours new voices, reports The Guardian

By Alison Flood

Published in the Guardian

From Arundhati Roy to Jennifer Egan, some of the biggest names in literature have fallen by the wayside in the race for this year’s Women’s prize for fiction. Instead the judges have plumped for titles they felt “spoke most directly and truthfully” to them.

Three fiction debuts made the six-strong lineup for the £30,000 award: British authors Imogen Hermes Gowar, chosen for her historical novel The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, which imagines the capture of a mermaid in Georgian London, and Jessie Greengrass for Sight, about the journey to motherhood; and American Elif Batuman for The Idiot, set at Harvard university during the 1990s.

“You can feel the full force of these new female voices … These aren’t the grand old names,” said chair of judges Sarah Sands, editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. In what will be viewed as controversial, she added: “Maybe there was a kind of verve and freshness because people weren’t on the awards circuit – they’d just come and written a book because they had something to say. It wasn’t that there was an expectation.”

The best-known name in the running for this year’s award is British-Pakistani author Kamila Shamsie, chosen for her modern-day reimagining of Sophocles’ Antigone, Home Fire. Overlooked big hitters were Nicola Barker’s Goldsmiths-winning H(a)ppy, Gail Honeyman’s Costa-winning Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and Fiona Mozley’s Booker-shortlisted Elmet.

“We lost some big names, with regret, but narrowed down the list to the books which spoke most directly and truthfully to the judges,” said Sands. “The shortlist was chosen without fear or favour … Some of the authors are young, half by Brits and all are blazingly good and brave writers.”

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Jim Crace’s brilliant The Melody explores loss, ageing, greed and gentrification, writes Paige Nick

Published in the Sunday Times

The Melody *****
Jim Crace, Picador, R285

After his Booker-nominated Harvest (2013), Jim Crace was never going to write another novel – until three things happened. The first was at a literary festival in India, in a luxury hotel where high walls and security kept the world out, except at night when animals and humans fed loudly from the bins next door.

The second was a year later, in Malta, when Crace stayed on a promenade built for sun seekers in the 1800s. But now the buildings cast it into shade, except where an early Victorian house, badly in need of repair, had survived. Just one storey high, the sun got through and locals gathered in that little moving square of sunshine. This conflict between the built and natural world lives in all Crace’s work.

So Crace collapsed India into Malta and Malta into the Mediterranean as The Melody started to form in his head.

The third thing happened years ago while writing a short story for The Devil’s Larder (2001). In story No 60, a character named Tambar appears in just one sentence. Crace liked that the musician’s name sounded like “tambourine”, but later came to dislike it. So before the American edition came out he renamed him Alfred Busi.

And so Busi is The Melody’s lead; a famous singer coming to terms with retirement and his wife’s death. One night a lonely Busi is attacked by what could either be a wild animal or a feral child stealing food from his pantry. The attack spins the town folk into panic and Busi’s nephew, a developer, uses the crisis to further his own agenda as they wage war on whatever or whoever is living in the forest. The novel explores loss, ageing, greed and gentrification, as well as the refugee crisis and xenophobia.

Crace is the master of allegorical novels, set in no particular time or place. What The Melody lacks in fast-paced plot it makes up for with Crace’s superb lyrical style. And though the reader may not be able to pinpoint when this brilliant book is set, that doesn’t make it less of a novel for our times. @paigen

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Bridget Jones Dries Out: Clare Pooley was amazed women were blogging about alcoholism, writes Jennifer Platt

Published in the Sunday Times

The wine witch is not someone that people want in their lives, writes Clare Pooley in her memoir, The Sober Diaries. Illustration: Keith Tamkei.

 
The Sober Diaries
Clare Pooley
Hodder & Stoughton, R315

The wine witch is not someone that people want in their lives. As Clare Pooley writes in her memoir: “The single most telling sign that you are no longer in control of alcohol, but it is in control of you, is when you instinctively understand the concept of the ‘wine witch’. Some people refer to her as the ‘inner addict’ or the ‘monkey on my back’ … But, for many of us women in the sober online world, ‘wine witch’ describes her perfectly.”
 
The Sober Diaries is the account of the year Pooley decided to quit the booze: her drink of note – more than a bottle of wine a day. The bottles of vino piled into her life: first partying like only a student can (obscene binge drinking) at Cambridge and then as managing partner of the world’s biggest advertising agencies in London where “drinking was part of the work culture as well as the play culture. In fact … we had a bar in the office.”

Then she quit the rat race when she had her third child to be the Perfect Mom. Wine became her “oasis of sanity, a release from the stress of toddler tantrums and the boredom of nappy changing”. Fast forward six years and Pooley realises: “The wine witch is not Mary Poppins”. Deciding that she couldn’t go to Alcoholics Anonymous for a variety of reasons, Pooley googled how to stop drinking and became aware that women were blogging about alcohol addiction. She decided to write as well, and called her blog Mommy was a Secret Drinker. Pooley had no idea that her honesty would strike such a chord.

The Sober Diaries is not just a sober read. Pooley is hilarious and shows that being sober is not depressing. Fact is, alcohol is a depressant and when the brain is exposed to the drink, Pooley writes, “its natural systems of craving and reward are screwed up”. When we drink, our brain’s reward system is artificially activated and it produces dopamine – a feel-good chemical. The brain thinks it is producing far too much, so it compensates by decreasing the chemical. “Gradually drinkers feel more and more depressed, and start to believe that only alcohol will make us feel better.” This vicious cycle is then created.

Beating the addiction is not the only problem that Pooley has to grapple with. Several months into her year of sobriety she is diagnosed with breast cancer. Fact is, alcohol is linked to cancer. Alcohol is a carcinogen and causes at least seven types of cancer.

Pooley decides not to drink when she gets the news. She writes a list of reasons to be positive. No 3 is: “One of the best ways to ensure that you don’t get breast cancer (or in my case) don’t get it again, is to not drink alcohol. And I’ve ticked that one off already.”

At the end of the year she is cancer-free and booze-free. This has driven Pooley to help people: writing this book, and giving the inspiring TEDx talk: Making Sober Less Shameful. Now she has partnered with Janet Gourand – who founded the World Without Wine workshops in Cape Town and Joburg – to run a workshop in London. World Without Wine (worldwithoutwine.com) offers workshops, coaching and support to help those trying to cut down on or quit alcohol. It’s also an online support.

Pooley’s story is one of many about dealing with alcohol addiction but it is relatable, funny and honest. As the blurb says: “This is Bridget Jones Dries Out”. @Jenniferdplatt

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