Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘Pan Macmillan’ Category

“This pacy account, featuring a mix of memoir and analysis, hits the mark” – Carlos Amato reviews Judith February’s judicious new book

Published in the Sunday Times

Turning and Turning: Exploring the Complexities of SA’s Democracy ****
Judith February, Picador Africa, R280

With SA’s political economy feeling as stuck as a 24-year-old lump of chewing gum, the moment is right for grounded perspective on the country’s democratic journey. This pacy account, featuring a mix of memoir and analysis, hits the mark.

Since the late ’90s Judith February has undertaken critical research and advocacy on governance issues in SA. While at the Institute for a Democratic Alternative in South Africa (Idasa), she fought tirelessly for a full accounting of the graft involved in the late-’90s arms deal, and later for transparency in political party funding. Neither battle has yet been won, but the war is long, as her book makes clear.

February provides a particularly clear-eyed account of the continuities and causal links between the Zuma era and the Mbeki era, and even the Mandela era before it.

The public discourse – particularly the ad hominem language of Mbeki’s faction against its critics to the left and right alike – became coarser and more inflammatory. This, she notes, sowed the seeds of the Polokwane revolt and all the rhetorical, ethical and institutional decay that followed.

There is a similar long view in her analysis of state capture. Its origins, she argues, stretch way back to what might be described as the original sin of the democratic era – the signing of the arms deal. February co-authored a seminal report by Idasa on the volley of hideously wasteful arms transactions and their poisonous effect on the integrity of the state in 2001.

Among the casualties of the arms deal, she says, was the vigour of the standing committee on public accounts, which became a partisan battleground instead of the relatively non-partisan watchdog that it should be.

But all is not lost: the epic scale of the Zuma-era corruption, February notes, has reawakened the public’s concern about the strength and protection of public institutions – from parliament to the Chapter 9 institutions to the media to the judiciary – that monitor and curb executive power.

When damaged, these institutions can be repaired. But having seen the slow progress of the decay in meticulous detail, February warns that recovery is not a quick or easy process.

She also explores the increasingly fractious and racialised tenor of our national dialogue in recent years – at least as it is enacted and reflected in the media and social media.

SA is undergoing an autopsy of the fantasy of the “Rainbow Nation”, she argues.

But the reactionary nature of the debate – not least in the populist theatrics and violent rhetoric of the EFF – about what sort of reality should replace the fantasy is taking us nowhere.

The true, simmering potential of our society, she suggests, lies in the emerging worldview of Mokoni Chaka and Evert du Preez, the two Kroonstad boys who rescued injured passengers from the wreckage of a train in January this year.

Evert du Preez and Mokoni Chaka, two friends who rescued injured passengers from a train wreck in Kroonstad this year. Picture: YouTube.

 
The 12-year-old heroes have been best friends since preschool, and they are both bilingual in Sotho and Afrikaans. “Hulle is baie erg oor mekaar,” said Du Preez’s mother. (“They are very serious about each other.”)

“This should not be unusual in SA but it is,” writes February. “It is in the innocence of two 12-year-old boys that we understand that [Mandela’s] vision is worth fighting for every day and every inch of the way.” Even in this jaded moment, February refuses to give up on the slow transformative power of democracy itself – an ideal that she separates from its rainbowist rhetoric. @CarlosCartoons

Book details


» read article

The 2018 SALA shortlist has been announced!

Via The South African Literary Awards

Celebrating 13th anniversary of their existence, the South African Literary Awards (SALA) have shortlisted twenty three (23) authors from a total of just under two hundred (200) submissions received for 2018. The winners will be announced at a glittering awards ceremony on the 6th November at UNISA.

Following the passing on of the 2nd National Poet Laureate, Prof Keorapetse Kgositsile, the prestigious South African Literary Awards will announce his successor as well as introducing two additional categories: Novel Award and Children’s Literature Award.

The Awards will be followed by the 6th Africa Century International African Writers Conference whose International African Writers Day Lecture will be delivered by Professor Kwesi Kwaa Prah, the renowned, highly respected scholar, prolific author and public speaker, who is also the founder of the Center for Advanced Studies of African Societies in South Africa.

The Conference is also taking place at UNISA over two days, i.e. 6th and 7th November 2018.

“We are excited that South African literature continues to flourish, with many young writers coming into the scene, sharing platforms with their more established and experienced counterparts,” said Morakabe Seakhoa, Project Director of the South African Literary Awards.

Seakhoa, however, expressed sadness and concern that “we still see less and less of works written in African languages”.

Founded by the wRite associates, in partnership with the national Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) in 2005, the main aim of the South African Literary Awards is to pay tribute to South African writers who have distinguished themselves as groundbreaking producers and creators of literature, while it celebrates literary excellence in the depiction and sharing of South Africa’s histories, value systems and philosophies and art as inscribed and preserved in all the languages of South Africa, particularly the official languages.

With thirteen successful years of existence, thirteen categories and over 161 authors honoured, the SA Literary Awards have become the most prestigious and respected literary accolades in the South African literary landscape. SALA prides itself in not only acknowledging established authors but as a platform to budding writers through the First-time Published Author Award category.

We congratulate the 2018 nominees for their sterling work and keeping South Africa’s literary heritage alive.

First-time Published Author Award

Celesté Fritze: Verlorenkop (Afrikaans)

Malebo Sephodi:Miss Behave (English)

Creative Non- Fiction Award

Deon Maas: Melk die heilige koeie: Van baarde en banting tot Zupta and zol (Afrikaans)

Jurgen Schadeberg: The Way I See It (English)

Sello Duiker Memorial Literary Award

NO SHORTLIST

Poetry Award

Johan Myburg: Uittogboek (Afrikaans)

Kelwyn Sole: Walking, Falling (English)

Literary Translators Award

Jeff Opland and Peter Mtuze: Umoya Wembongi: Collected Poems (1922 – 1935) by John Solilo (isiXhosa to English)

Jeff Opland and Peter Mtuze: Iziganeko Zesizwe: Occasional Poems (1900-1943) by S.E.K. Mqhayi (isiXhosa to English)

Nadine Gordimer Short Story Award

Nick Mulgrew: The First Law of Sadness (English)

Nicole Jaekel Strauss: As in die mond (Afrikaans)

Novel Award

Dan Sleigh: 1795 (Afrikaans)

Rehana Rossouw: New Times (English)

Children’s Literature Award

Marilyn J Honikman: There should have been five (English)

Jaco Jacobs: Daar’s nie ʼn krokodil in hierdie boek nie (Afrikaans)

Jaco Jacobs: Moenie hierdie boek eet nie (Afrikaans)

Marita van der Vyver: Al wat ek weet (Afrikaans)

Posthumous Literary Award

To be announced at the award ceremony: Body of work

Literary Journalism Award

To be announced at the award ceremony: Body of work

Lifetime Achievement Literary Award

Hermann Giliomee: Body of work (Afrikaans)

Ronnie Kasrils: Body of work (English)

Chairperson’s

To be announced at the award ceremony: Body of work

National Poet Laureate

To be announced at the award ceremony: Body of work

Verlorenkop

Book details
Verlorenkop by Celesté Fritze
Book homepage
EAN: 9780795801068
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
Miss Behave

Miss Behave by Malebo Sephodi
EAN: 9781928337416
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
Melk die heilige koeie

Melk die heilige koeie by Deon Maas
Book homepage
EAN: 9780624081166
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
The Way I See It

The Way I See It: A Memoir by Jürgen Schadenberg
EAN: 9781770105294
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
Uittogboek

Uittogboek by Johan Myburg
EAN: 9781485307761
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
Walking, Falling

Walking, Falling by Kelwyn Sole
EAN: 9780987028280
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
John Solilo: Umoya wembongi

John Solilo: Umoya wembongi: Collected poems (1922–1935) edited by Jeff Opland, Peter Mtuze
Book homepage
EAN: 9781869143121
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
S.E.K. Mqhayi

S.E.K. Mqhayi: Iziganeko zesizwe: Occasional poems (1900–1943) edited by Jeff Opland, Peter T Mtuze
EAN: 9781869143343
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
The First Law of Sadness

The First Law of Sadness by Nick Mulgrew
EAN: 9781485625780
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
As in die Mond

As in die Mond by Nicole Jaekel Strauss
EAN: 9780795801358
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
1795

1795 by Dan Sleigh
Book homepage
EAN: 9780624073307
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
New Times

New Times by Rehana Rossouw
EAN: 9781431425808
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
There Should Have Been Five

There Should Have Been Five by Marilyn Honikman
Book homepage
EAN: 9780624076568
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
Daar's nie 'n krokodil in hierdie boek nie

Daar’s nie ‘n krokodil in hierdie boek nie by Jaco Jacobs, illustrated by Chris Venter
EAN: 9780799383836
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
Moenie hierdie boek eet nie!

Moenie hierdie boek eet nie! : ’n Rympie vir elke dag van die jaar by Jaco Jacobs, illustrated by Zinelda McDonald
EAN: 9780799379211
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
Al wat ek weet

Al wat ek weet by Marita Van der Vyver
EAN: 9780799378993
Find this book with BOOK Finder!


» read article

Book Bites: 16 September

Published in the Sunday Times

PontiPonti ***
Sharlene Teo, Picador, R285

In 2003, Szu Min lives shyly in the shadow of her beautiful mother Amisa Tan, a former B-movie actress and her Aunt Yunxi, who works as a medium. In 2020 Szu’s childhood friend Circe is put in charge of the media blitz for the remake of the 1970s horror film Ponti, in which Amisa plays the leading role. This drives Circe to reconsider her friendship with Szu Min and its bitter end. Split between several decades as well as Circe, Szu and Amisa’s perspectives, Ponti is a quietly tragic and slow-moving read exploring grief, abandonment and broken loyalties in Singapore. Though Teo’s debut is atmospheric in language and setting, it fails to satisfy in its resolution. Efemia Chela @efemiachela

A Double LifeA Double Life *****
Flynn Berry, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, R285

Lord Lucan’s disappearance in 1974 still fascinates true-crime aficionados. Berry’s story is told from the point of view of Claire, a London GP who has lived under a new name since her father vanished. Names and dates have been changed in this fictionalised tale but the crime in the novel mirrors the real case: in his absence a court found Lord Lucan guilty of murdering a servant. In this version eight-year-old Claire finds the body of her au pair and still bears the emotional scars. Berry flips between past and present as Claire pursues the only course of action that will free her from her father’s shadow. Sue de Groot @deGrootS1

The Chalk ManThe Chalk Man ****
CJ Tudor, Penguin, R175

If Stephen King and the Duffer Brothers (Stranger Things) had a British love child, her name would be CJ Tudor. The Chalk Man is spine-tingling and deliciously macabre; Tudor spins a tight yarn with remarkable constraint. A gang of pre-teens ride their bikes around town causing mischief when one day they stumble upon a body in the woods. There’s a strange new teacher who coaxes them into playing with chalk, and every time someone dies, creepy chalk men appear near the murder scene. Nothing is as it seems, and everyone seems to be nursing a secret. Right up to the very last page, The Chalk Man thrills and simultaneously terrifies. Anna Stroud @annawriter_

Book details


» read article

“A collection of stories about nobodies who discover that they matter” – Mohale Mashigo discusses Intruders with Pearl Boshomane Tsotetsi

Published in the Sunday Times

By Pearl Boshomane Tsotetsi

The acclaimed author of Intruders, Mohale Mashigo. Picture: Sydelle Willow Smith.

 

Intruders ****
Mohale Mashigo, Picador Africa, R180

“A collection of stories about nobodies who discover that they matter.” That is how Mohale Mashigo describes her latest, Intruders. And while the short stories are set in the future (yet deeply rooted in the past) SA, and they feature familiar characters, the author requests that we don’t label the tales in Intruders “Afrofuturism”.

She says Afrofuturism (the genre du jour in literature, film and – as Nando’s points out in their latest cheeky ad – marketing) doesn’t “feel like the right coat to dress my stories in”.

And once you’ve devoured all 12 stories in the book, you understand why Mashigo feels the need for that disclaimer in the first place. To refer to Intruders as Afrofuturism is lazy and inaccurate. The stories aren’t as performative as that label would suggest and while they have a strong sense of familiarity, it’s not in a “seen this all before”, unoriginal way.

The familiarity in Intruders is both comforting and disconcerting. The people in the stories could be our friends, our families, our neighbours – they could be us. The settings are familiar to anyone who knows any corner of this land. That makes it harder to dismiss these tales of werewolves, mutants, monster slayers, shapeshifters and magicians as just tales of fiction.

It’s difficult to do so when you get sucked into them quickly because you recognise the world they are set in. Some of the stories themselves are inspired by or make reference to tales that many of us grew up on.

About this, Mashigo says: “Some of our stories are so magical, scary and downright beautiful. I wanted to show people that there is value in what we have … Our things are nice too!”

For instance, “BnB in Bloem”, a story about two sisters who hunt monsters, brings up the legendary story of Vera the Ghost.

There are a few different versions of Vera’s story, but the basic premise is that she is a beautiful hitchhiker ghost picked up by men who would sleep with her and then later wake up at her gravesite. In “BnB” Vera isn’t just one apparition, but many, who are terrorising men. All of the Veras have died at the hands of the opposite sex, and are out for revenge.

“We would never have to deal with a Vera if men would stop killing women,” one of the sisters says. Imagine if every woman in SA murdered by a man returned for retribution.

That’s part of the beauty of Intruders: it is also a commentary on gender, violence, race, addiction and class in SA done masterfully and in such unexpected ways that stumbling across bits of commentary in the stories feels like discovering sweets you didn’t know were hidden in your pockets.

Take “Once Upon a Town”, for instance. It’s the tale of two brilliant children who were both the hope of their families and communities, who end up hiding in the shadows because of afflictions they have no control over.

Streetlights reflect off the Orange River in Upington. Picture: 123rf.com/Demerzel21

 
While it’s a charming love story, “Once Upon” is also incredibly sad because – while it deals with the supernatural – it’s such a familiar South African tale.

The tale of brilliance that flourished in the sun for a while before being snuffed out by circumstances beyond the control of the gifted; the gifted kids who grew up in a place that wasn’t made to nourish their kind; the gifted kids who were the hopes of their families and communities for a better life; the gifted kids who, in the end, couldn’t escape the world they lived in.

One of the best stories in the Book is “Little Vultures”, a sci-fi fantasy set in a Jurassic Park-esque world, minus the horror (well, at least in the beginning). Basically, a sci-fi Garden of Eden. A widowed scientist, who is a pariah because of an experiment, lives on a farm with the animals she has created or resurrected. She is joined by two women, both coping with their own pain in different ways (one through cosmetic surgery, the other through isolation).

While the story is a literary Venn diagram about science and magic, at its heart is a stunning tale of loss, grief, loneliness and the value of life. The story ends on a suspenseful note, which is both fantastic and frustrating. Frustrating because you want to know more.

And that is the only disappointment with the tales in Intruders: how incomplete they feel. It’s as though Mashigo sucks the reader into her supernatural world as quickly as she spits you out from it. A lot of the stories leave you feeling like an addict who needs a fix. More please. @Pearloysias

Book details


» read article

Book Bites: 2 September

Published in the Sunday Times

Presumed Dead ***
Mason Cross, Orion, R315

The rugged northeast of rural Georgia near the Appalachian Trail is perfect murder country. Between August 2002 and October 2003 nine bodies found in the dense forest were thought to be the work of the Devil Mountain Killer. Adeline Connor, then a teenage, was one of the victims, but her body was never found. And now, 15 years later, her brother is convinced he saw her alive and well in Atlanta. Carter Blake, a man who finds missing people, is hired to come to the small town of Bethany to investigate David’s claim that his sister is not dead. Someone has something to hide and the body count mounts. Who is out there with a .38 – re-emerging from the woods to kill? A gripping read that keeps you guessing till the end. Gabrielle Bekes @gabrikwa

The Gold Diggers ****
Sue Nyathi, Macmillan, R265

Disenchanted with life in a failing Zimbabwe, a miscellany of individuals make the treacherous crossing into SA, driven by a wily dealer in human cargo. Buoyed up by their hopes of being reunited with relatives or finding lucrative employment, they head for Johannesburg, the City of Gold. They are quickly disillusioned. The city is tough and sleazy; living conditions are squalid; xenophobia is rife; and it is difficult to secure employment without the necessary documents. Tenacity and sometimes duplicity are required and some fall prey to unscrupulous beguilers. Even those who achieve success pay a high price. Nyathi’s narrative has considerable pathos and provides insight into the plight of individuals forced by circumstances to take desperate actions. Moira Lovell

Caligula *****
Simon Turney, Orion, R295

Apparently insane Roman emperors continue to enjoy exposure in contemporary fiction, and readers can have their pick of perspectives. This look at Caligula differs from most considerations of the infamous tyrant in that author Simon Turney attempts, for as long as possible, to maintain a sympathetic view of his subject. Using Caligula’s loving, loyal sister Livilla as the first-person narrator goes a long way to making this a possibility, as she’s the last person in the world willing to wish him ill. Turney’s research paints a detailed picture of the perils of life at court under Caligula’s volatile predecessor Tiberius and of most of the major incidents in Caligula’s rule, confirming that Rome, for all the glamour its historical profile suggests, was a profoundly treacherous place. Bruce Dennill @BroosDennill

Book details


» read article

“Fierce, sad, inspired” – Anna Stroud reviews Craig Higginson’s soul-stirring The White Room

Published in the Sunday Times

A man and a woman give each other fictionalised stories about themselves, revealing much more than they ever hoped to in Craig Higginson’s The White Room. Author picture: Christof van der Walt.

 

The White Room
*****
Craig Higginson, Picador Africa, R265

In Craig Higginson’s fourth novel, The White Room, he reimagines and expands the story he started to tell in his 2010 play The Girl in the Yellow Dress. The novel opens when playwright Hannah Meade arrives in London for the opening night of her play about a brief period in Paris when she taught English to a young French-Congolese man named Pierre.

To complicate matters, she’s invited him to the premiere; but when she spots him with his gorgeous wife, she retreats into the wings and frets over how he will receive it.

“This book is so much about fiction and representation,” Higginson says in an interview.

“In the first half of the play before the interval, Pierre is pissed off with her because of the way she represented him, and stuck quite closely to the facts. But then in the second half of the play, he comes away feeling that something in him has been reached, even though the second half of the play wasn’t literally true.”

The play within the novel is structured around five grammar lessons. It opens when Pierre spots Hannah at the Sorbonne and, seeing her as a quintessential English girl, stalks her and convinces her to teach him. But the stories they tell each other about themselves are steeped in fiction, and beg the question whether we can ever truly know each other – or ourselves.

Yet sometimes the lies we tell are most revealing. Hannah’s self-representation leaves Pierre perplexed.

Higginson’s impressive use of language is demonstrated. On the surface it is spare but beneath the simplicity it cajoles the reader into playing a game of words. He writes: “There is an anarchic spirit in her, a kind of reckless impulsiveness that he will ponder over the weeks afterwards. Though she comes across as so perfect, so in control, a shadow seems to lie under everything she says and does.”

Hannah is a complex and moody character who hides from the world in books. The only time she’s truly alive is inside the grammar lessons, while outside everything is drab and dreary. Meanwhile Pierre (like Echo in the myth of Echo and Narcissus) loses himself in her and becomes a rock that reflects her voice.

Unlike the original female character in The Girl in the Yellow Dress, Hannah is not wealthy, or from the UK.

“By making her South African I was able to tap into my own memories of growing up in SA,” Higginson says. “There’s quite a lot of my own life in there … there’s a lot of me in there and yet the characters are very different from me.”

Like Hannah, Higginson was born in Zimbabwe and moved to SA at the height of the Soweto uprising. He also went to boarding school in KwaZulu-Natal, worked in the theatre, lived in England, did a TEFL course in Stoke, and taught English in Paris.

“A recurring theme in my work is the past and traumatic events or secrets from the past,” Higginson says. Hannah and Pierre attempt a relationship, but secrets and baggage from their past seep into the white room, causing them to hurt one another.

“Growing up in SA, one felt a kind of shame all the time. I mean, it’s that thing in The White Room where you’re in this abusive relationship but you don’t know if you’re the abuser or abused.”

The white room represents the room on stage where the action unfolds but it’s also the blank page, a clean slate. On another level, it’s about whiteness and the centrality it demands for itself.

Higginson explains that the novel touches on “the space that whiteness takes up in the world, the room that whiteness asks for itself, and how characters like Pierre have to negotiate that space”.

Yet, it’s a story that affirms the power of poetry, literature and theatre to reimagine and transform ourselves.

“I think we need to absorb fictions in order to heal and find a better vision.”

Fierce, sad, inspired The White Room stirs the soul. @annawriter_

Book details


» read article

Sefika Awards & Nielsen Booksellers’ Choice Award winners announced!

Issued on behalf of the SA Booksellers Association and Publishers Association of South Africa by Native Worx PR & Communications

29 August 2018

Last night the much-anticipated Grammy’s of the book industry were announced at a packed ceremony held at the Wanderers Club in Illovo, Johannesburg. The annual event forms part of the booksellers and publishers of South Africa co-joined Annual General Meetings (AGM) where topical issues in various sectors of the book industry are discussed. The Awards acknowledge and celebrate booksellers and the role they play in promoting literacy and a culture of reading.

The winners are:

• Academic bookseller of the year – Protea Books
• Education bookseller of the year – Books 24/7
• Library supplier of the year – Hargraves Library Services
• Trade bookseller of the year (chain stores) – Bargain Books
• Trade bookseller of the year (independent) – The Book Lounge
• Academic publisher of the year – Juta Books
• Education publisher of the year (large) – Best Education
• Education publisher of the year (small) – Berlut Book
• Trade publisher of the year – Jonathan Ball Publishers

Winners are selected through a voting process which enables publishers to select the best among booksellers and in turn booksellers choose the winners among publishers.

The evening culminated with the most coveted accolade, the Nielsen Booksellers Choice Award. The award is bestowed upon a local author for a South African published book that booksellers most enjoyed selling or that sold so well that it made a difference to the bottom line of booksellers across the country.

The award went to The President’s Keepers by investigative journalist Jacques Pauw. Published by Tafelberg Publishers, the book exposes a secret at the heart of Jacob Zuma’s compromised government. To date the book has sold over 200 000 copies worldwide.

Mr. Pauw gave a riveting speech by sharing the journey of the book from the moment it hit shelves across South Africa.

“When criminal charges were instituted against me in an effort to ban the book, everyone went out and bought a copy of it and it sold out. In the midst of all the publicity it also become an international best seller on eBooks,” commented Pauw.

The short-listed books for Nielsen Booksellers Choice Award 2018 were:

90 Rules For Entrepreneurs by Marnus Broodryk, published by Tracey McDonald Publishers.
Khwezi by Redi Tlhabi, published by Jonathan Ball.
No Longer Whispering To Power by Thandeka Gqubule, published by Jonathan Ball.
I Write What I Like by Steve Biko, published by Pan Macmillan

The President's Keepers

Book details
The President’s Keepers: Those Keeping Zuma in Power and out of Prison by Jacques Pauw
EAN: 9780624083030
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 

90 Rules for Entrepreneurs

90 Rules for Entrepreneurs by Marnus Broodryk
EAN: 9780620758352
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
Khwezi

Khwezi: The Story of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo by Redi Tlhabi
EAN: 9781868427260
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
No Longer Whispering to Power

No Longer Whispering to Power: The Story of Thuli Madonsela by Thandeka Gqubule
EAN: 9781868427314
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
I Write What I Like

I Write What I Like: 40th Anniversary Edition by Steve Biko
EAN: 9781770105102
Find this book with BOOK Finder!


» read article

Book Bites: 26 August

Published in the Sunday Times

Perfect Death *****
Helen Fields, HarperCollins, R215

A naked girl freezes to death on a wintry hillside, but her killer doesn’t enjoy the actual murder. He is sustained by the grief of those who loved the victim. Readers are soon inside the head of the serial killer, and stay a step ahead of Edinburgh cop Luc Callanach. He has complex feelings for Detective Chief Inspector Ava Turner. She’s equally disturbed by the sexual tension, but both keep their guard up as deaths multiply, and police corruption emerges. The tale accelerates to a violent climax and a twist ending. It weaves a bright new thread into the school of “tartan noir” police procedurals and follows two bestsellers: Perfect Remains and Perfect Prey. Tom Learmont

The Tall Man **
Phoebe Locke, Headline, R265

According to a Daily Express quote on the jacket, Locke’s novel is the “must-read summer chiller”. But the only chills I felt while reading this “thriller” was that of Joburg’s winter. The premise is simple: in the early ’90s three girls pledge their devotion to a mysterious figure known as (yes, you guessed it) the Tall Man. This man (who is lank tall. Like, we get it) promises to make these girls “special”. Fast-forward a few decades where the disappearance of a young mother (in 2000) and a brutal murder possibly committed by a teenage girl (in 2018) might just be linked to that one fateful night in an English forest in 1990. The plot drags and Locke’s incessant references to the Tall Man’s height and pseudo-supernatural allusions make this a tiring and confusing read. Mila de Villiers @mila_se_kind

The Anomaly ****
Michael Rutger, Bonnier, R265

Nolan Moore, host of a struggling online reality show investigating archaeological anomalies, leads his crew to a mythical cavern deep in the Grand Canyon, using a century-old newspaper clipping as his guide. In a scenario horror fans know all too well, once Nolan and co are deep inside the cave, rejoicing at their scoop, it all begins to go pear-shaped. Within hours, they are trapped deep under the earth with almost no food, light or water. Then they realise they are not alone … And the plot deteriorates into absurdity – with murders, monsters, and betrayals. But the writing is superb; sharp, witty and intelligent, with refreshingly good grammar. Think one of the more ludicrous episodes of the X-Files, but scripted by Oscar Wilde. Aubrey Paton

Book details


» read article

RIP V.S. Naipaul (17 August 1932 – 11 August 2018)

Via Times Select

By Andrew Donaldson

There has been a flood of tributes and career appraisals following the death at the weekend of VS Naipaul, arguably the greatest and most infuriating figure in post-colonial literature. For more than five decades he gave his readers often searing and withering portraits of societies in the developing world.

That honesty earned him severe criticism – and not just for his particular point of view on the colonialism and post-colonialism so unequivocally detailed in his novels and travel writing. He was just as brutal when it came to his own failings as a man, so much so that his violent behaviour threatened to overwhelm his literary reputation.

He spared his biographer, Patrick French, nothing – so much so that the latter’s The World Is What It Is: The Authorised Biography of VS Naipaul (Vintage, 2009) is a gobsmacking page-turner.

Naipaul was fairly open about the humiliation he caused his first wife, Patricia Hale, and the 20-year affair he conducted with Margaret Gooding, a women he regularly assaulted. When the affair began, his editor Diana Athill rebuked him for his behaviour. He told her: “I am having carnal pleasure for the first time in my life, are you saying I must give it up?”

Pleasure meant degrading Gooding in bed. As Naipaul told French: “I was very violent with her for two days with my hand; my hand began to hurt … She didn’t mind it at all. She thought of it in terms of my passion for her. Her face was bad. She couldn’t appear really in public. My hand was swollen. I was utterly helpless. I have enormous sympathy for people who do strange things out of passion.”

What to read, though, of the 29 books that Naipaul produced? His first collection of short stories, Miguel Street (1959), details the lives of ordinary Trinidadians in a run-down corner of Port of Spain. The novels A House for Mr Biswas (1961), The Mimic Men (1967) and A Bend in the River (1978) are pretty much essential. Of his non-fiction work I recommend The Loss of El Dorado (1969), his India travelogues, An Area of Darkness (1964), India: A Wounded Civilisation (1977) and India: A Million Mutinies Now (1990), Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey (1981) and Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples (1998).

He was particularly scathing about South Africans in The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief (2010). An uncomfortable experience, you could say.

The World is What it Is

Book details
The World is What it Is: The Authorized Biography of VS Naipaul by Patrick French
EAN: 9780330455985
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 

Miguel Street

Miguel Street by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780435989545
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 

A House for Mr Biswas

A House for Mr Biswas by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330522892
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
The Mimic Men

The Mimic Men by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330522922
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
 
A Bend in the River

A Bend in the River by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330522991
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Loss of El Dorado

The Loss of El Dorado by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330522847
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
 
An Area of Darkness

An Area of Darkness: His Discovery of India by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330522830
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
 
India: A Wounded Civilization

India: A Wounded Civilization by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330522717
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
 
India: A Million Mutinies Now

India: A Million Mutinies Now by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330519861
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
 
Among the Believers

Among the Believers by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330522823
Find this book with BOOK Finder!

 
 
 

Beyond Belief

Beyond Belief by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330517874
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 

The Masque of Africa

The Masque of Africa by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330472043
Find this book with BOOK Finder!


» read article

A boy finds redemption with a disgraced priest in a magnificent new novel by Tim Winton, writes Michele Magwood

Published in the Sunday Times

Tim Winton. Picture: © Lynn Webb.

The Shepherd’s Hut
*****
Tim Winton, Picador, R290

In Tim Winton’s 2017 memoir, The Boy Behind the Curtain, he describes his upbringing in an evangelical church. His parents were latecomers to religion, joining the church only after Winton’s father, a traffic cop, nearly died in an accident. They made up for lost time. The author remembers the twice-on-a-Sunday, “no-frills, bare-knuckled” services where they bellowed hymns “until we saw spots and our limbs tingled”. But mostly he remembers the epic sermons.

“It was church that taught me the beauty and power of language,” he writes. “Recited and declaimed from the pulpit week after week and year after year, these stories and their cadences were deeply imprinted.”

It was here, too, that Winton became aware of the notions of grace and redemption, faith, sacrifice and mercy. Though his books are never overtly religious, these are recurring themes in his writing, gleaming just under the surface.

Another of his overriding themes is masculinity, especially in the form of young, damaged proto-men who he sends on physical or metaphysical journeys. And in every one of his books the landscape is paramount, less a backdrop than a character itself.

In The Shepherd’s Hut all of these themes are rendered down into a hot ingot of a story, forged by elemental forces as blinding as the saltpans in which it is set but utterly transcendent. This is ur-Winton.

Jaxie Clackton is just 15, a rough, punching, furious boy whose whole life has been one of loss and pain. His mother has died, as if in self-defence against the endless beatings of her drunken husband, the local butcher in their fly-blown, one-pub West Australian town. With her gone, “Captain Wankbag” as Jaxie calls him, turns his fists into his son. There is only one good thing in Jaxie’s life, his love for Lee, the only one who understands him. But Lee is his cousin, their love is taboo. Broken and barely surviving in a community that turns a blind eye to his predicament, Jaxie prays to God to “kill this c**t off once and for all”.

But when his father is, indeed, killed off in an accident of his own making, Jaxie knows he will be blamed for it.

Gathering a few provisions he flees to the bush. He has no plan other than to hide and eventually reach Lee hundreds of kilometres away.

From the arresting opening paragraph we know he will make it out: “When I hit the bitumen and get that smooth gray rumble going under me everything’s hell different. Even with the engine working up a howl and the wind flogging in the window the sounds are real soft and pillowy. Civilized I mean. And that’s hectic. But when you’ve hoofed it like a dirty goat all these weeks and months, when you’ve had the stony slow prickle-up hard country right in your face that long it’s bloody sudden. Some crazy shit, I tell you. Brings on this angel feeling. Like you’re just one arrow of light.”

Deep in the wilderness, when he is half-starved and hallucinatory, “burred up and narky as a feral cat”, Jaxie stumbles upon an old man in a hut on the edge of a salt lake.

This is Fintan MacGillis, a disgraced Irish priest, cast out by the church. He is no abuser, though; he is more of an ascetic, an anchorite, and the reference to John the Baptist is clear. He feeds Jaxie, clothes him, bathes him and restores him.

The boy is leery of him, and rude. They have to learn to trust each other but they settle into a fitful companionship.

“A couple times I had to tell him to go and get himself fucked. Then he got all pursy and red and said I was an uncultured ingrate. I said he was a knobjob and he called me a juvenile delinquent. But he never flogged me. So I figured I could put up with his stupid nonsense.”

Gradually Jaxie sheds his spikes and begins to alter. The brutal landscape shapes him too. He becomes minutely attuned to nature and stripped to the core of his young being. MacGillis sees something in him, a base material of goodness.

“When you do right, when you do good,” he tells Jaxie, “well, then you are an instrument of God. Then you are joined to the divine, to the life force, to life itself.”

And an instrument of God is what he becomes when the narrative erupts in a hideous violence. Jaxie will be tested beyond what he could ever have imagined.

At that moment “All the birds landed, the sunlight landed. The song landed. All the decent things in him landed. On me. On my head. And I knew where I was, and who I was, and what I was. Yes, what I am. And it was just like he said. What I laughed at him for. It was like the sun and the moon going through me. I was charged.”

Everything of Winton lands in this book, his preoccupations and perceptiveness, and his matchless writing.

Harrowing but tender, it is profoundly charged. @michelemagwood

Book details


» read article