Lauren Beukes has labelled as “very tiresome” an academic paper accusing her of having “purloined” ideas from other writers in The Shining Girls.
The paper, entitled “Speculation, urban form, and ‘what if’ fiction in South Africa and Beyond”, is written by Loren Kruger and intended for a Wiser seminar to be held this afternoon. Beukes quotes a section from it on her public Facebook page, in which Kruger states that the “suppression” of what she believes are “significant” sources for The Shining Girls is either “downright deceptive” or an indication of a “hasty flight from the copyright police”.
Kruger’s paper is available for download from the Wiser website, with the caveat that it is a draft, and not for citation. Despite its interesting observations on dystopian and speculative fiction in a South African context, the paper does make some questionable claims around The Shining Girls’ influences and setting.
Kruger suggests that Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander is an “evident if unacknowledged model” for The Shining Girls’ protagonist Kirby Mizrachi, but only offers as support for this argument the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s original title, Män som hatar kvinnor or “Men who hate women”, and the similarity between Kirby and Salander’s motivation. Kruger also claims that the “unacknowledged but unmistakable source” for Beukes’ serial killer Harper Curtis is real life 1890s-era serial killer HH Holmes, who lured a number of women into a hotel he opened specifically to commit murder. Holmes’ hotel was situated near to the Chicago World’s Fair, from where he chose a number of his victims. Holmes’ crimes are documented in Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City, which was published in 2003. Kruger calls the omission of Holmes and Larson from Beukes acknowledgements “striking”.
However, while Beukes concedes that she did “read a Wikipedia page on HH Holmes” and that Harper’s scene at the World’s Fair is “in homage to Holmes”, she insists: “But he’s not Harper”.
Argh. The Wits Wiser paper by Loren Kruger claims HH Holmes and Dragon Tattoo major influences on The Shining Girls. Specially avoided both
“Harper’s modus operandi and personality is part BTK [the alias of convicted serial killer Dennis Rader], part Richard Peck and a mash-up of a bunch of other awful loathsome serial killers whose names I don’t remember,” Beukes says on Facebook, “from the true crime podcasts I listened to and from the brilliant book, Perfect Victims by Bill James and, to a lesser extent, Whoever Fights Monsters by Robert K Ressler & Tom Schachtman. (Both credited in my acknowledgements.)”
Kruger further asserts that the Englewood area where Harper’s house is situated is in a “black belt” that “did not exist there in the 1930s”. However, Beukes responds: “As for geographies: if you read the book carefully, you’ll see that Englewood is not IN the black belt, but that Harper meanders through the city to get there in an addled and hallucinatory state.”
Kruger believes the errors she perceives in The Shining Girls can be attributed to its rushed publication, and suggests that Beukes’ “transnational publisher” prioritised speed of production and cross-genre market appeal.
In response, Beukes says: “I’d also be happy to put the academic in question in touch with my publisher and my agent to explain how publishing actually works,” before adding that although Kruger has chosen “interesting topics to explore”, she made “proclamations” and her “phrasing is insulting, if not libellous”.
Beukes also stresses the many influences that could have inspired the character of Kirby, including women from her first book, Maverick: Extraordinary Women From South Africa’s Past, “smart interesting women I know like Zukiswa Wanner or Sarah Lotz or Janine Stephen” and the “many kickass complicated heroines well before Dragon Tattoo’s Salander”, including Jane Eyre to Ripley from Alien, among others.
Nobelpryswenner vir Letterkunde Nadine Gordimer het verlede week op die ouderdom van 90 jaar in haar huis in Johannesburg stil heengegaan. André P Brink het ‘n ontroerende huldeblyk aan haar geskryf waarin hy Gordimer se merkwaardige pad deur sy lewe vereer.
“Daar is nie baie ander mense vir wie ek dié omslagtige pad sou aangepak het nie, maar dit is die minste wat Nadine verdien,” skryf Brink en onthou hul jarelange vriendskap. Hy sluit af met ‘n kwellende gedagte oor haar werk: “Partykeer is dit net ’n enkele reël wat mens ’n leeftyd kan besig hou: ‘Who of us can know, what it means to love?’ Miskien is dit waarheen alles wat sy ooit geskryf het, uiteindelik terugkeer.”
“If Nadine could have seen you now,” het Karina gesê toe sy ’n paar minute gelede hier inkom waar ek langbeen in ons bed sit met die rekenaar op my skoot en pik-pik soos ’n brandsiek hoender met een vinger op ’n slag om van een toets na die volgende my pad te vind deur ’n wildernis van dertienhonderd woorde oor dié merkwaardige mens se pad deur my lewe. Daar is nie baie ander mense vir wie ek dié omslagtige pad sou aangepak het nie, maar dit is die minste wat Nadine verdien.
As ek op Karina se opmerking moes reageer, sou ek my heel eerste kon voorstel hoe Nadine oor die prentjie sou skaterlag: want hoe seer sy ook al as doodernstige mens beskou is, kon niemand ooit haar humorsin onderskat nie.
There’s a distinct tang of relish about Lost for Words, the glee of a writer who has concluded a long series of novels and is freed up to turn his acid eye on a personal peeve: literary prizes. Edward St Aubyn is known for his superb Patrick Melrose novels, a cycle of five elegant books about a poisoned aristocratic family that won him great acclaim and an ardent following, but which failed to win any major literary award. The books are largely autobiographical: St Aubyn comes from an ancient, pedigreed and famously appalling family.
Lost for Words is widely believed to be a satire of the Man Booker Prize, for which he was once shortlisted and the odds-on favourite to win. Supporters were aghast when he didn’t. Here the award is called the Elysian Prize, sponsored by a dodgy agricultural company which is “a leader in the field of genetically modified crops, crossing wheat with Arctic cod to make it frost resistant, or lemons with bullet ants to give them extra zest.” One of the judges is a ringer for Dame Stella Rimington, the former MI5-head-turned-spy thriller-author who chaired the Booker in 2011 and who horrified the literati by saying she was looking for “readability” and books “that zip along”. St Aubyn lampoons her in the figure of Penny Feathers, newly retired from the Foreign Office, who writes execrable books with the help of a software programme called Ghost . “When you typed in a word, ‘refugee’ for instance, several useful suggestions popped up: ‘clutching a pathetic bundle’, or ‘eyes big with hunger’; for ‘assassin’ you got ‘ice water running through his veins’.”
Another judge, Jo Cross, writes newspaper columns complaining about her husband and children and is in search only of “relevance”. A louche repertory actor Tobias Stevens, selected because he’s been “a fanatical reader ever since he was a little boy” never makes the judging sessions but throws his weight, naturally, behind a book titled All the World’s a Stage.
If St Aubyn has fun with the judges, he takes delirious enjoyment describing the books submitted. There’s an Indian cookbook entered by accident, which the judges insist is a “lucid, postmodern, multimedia masterpiece”, and a Scottish novel called wot u starin at, a “sub-Irvine Welsh” story set in a Glasgow housing estate: “Death Boy’s troosers were round his ankies. The only vein in his body that hadna bin driven into hiding was in his cock”.
A Year in the Wild is about an ex-banker trying to find himself in the wilderness. “As spring returned to the frozen land, the great thaw began. It bewildered Gary with its clamour and its swiftness.” The author, Penny Feathers decides, “clearly has a bad case of the Dr Doolittles.”
And so the judges argue and horse trade, not so much corrupt as utterly incompetent, circled by characters like the posturing critical theorist Didier and a noble Indian novelist who’s followed by his manservant around London.
Whipped along with elements of broad farce – wrong books are submitted; judges get stuck in the lift when they’re supposed to be announcing the winner – the action builds to the splutteringly funny awards banquet.
Edward St Aubyn must have laughed all the way to the stage recently when Lost for Words won the prestigious Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction. It will be interesting to see how it fares in this year’s Man Booker line up.
The 2014 Schreiner Karoo Writers Festival is set to take place in Cradock from 24 to 26 July, bringing book lovers close encounters with well-loved authors on this weekend dedicated to the memory of Olive Schreiner – a native of Cradock.
The programme includes presentations by Niël Stemmet, Deon Meyer, Etienne van Heerden, Stephen Gray and Gordon Wright. The programme also features the launch of Interviews with Neville Alexander by Brigitta Busch, Lucijan Busch and Karen Press with readings from passages relating to Alexander’s childhood in Cradock.
Have a look at the programme and press release to see what you can expect:
Bookings started coming two hours after the announcement of a strong and varied programme for the 5th annual Schreiner: Karoo Writers Festival (Cradock 24 to 26 July 2014).
“This year’s event promises to take the event to new heights with a line-up of talks and events appealing to a range of audiences,” said Professor Paul Walters who chairs the festival organising committee. “Highlights include live interviews with icons of the international fiction landscape: Etienne van Heerden and Deon Meyer.”
Lovers of reading, writing and the Karoo can look forward to personal interaction with renowned authors and literati as well as maximum opportunity to kuier with like-minded spirits. Intimacy is a key element of this festival.
Thursday (24 July) is workshop day. New in the festival mix is an all-day writing workshop for adults, focused on writing about the Karoo. The group is limited to 12 participants to ensure maximum benefits. The mentor is Gillian Rennie of Rhodes University – she teaches in both the School of Journalism and the MA in Creative Writing course. A confirmed ‘Karooster’, she lived in Nieu Bethesda for 10 years and is a widely experienced writer, editor and writing coach.
On Thursday afternoon, a group of Cradock matrics will brainstorm trends and careers in design, lifestyle and food with Karoo heritage style guru, Niël Stemmet (of sout+peper fame). Stemmet’s adult fans can attend as observers.
Thursday evening sees the first of a number of festival book launches. The publication of Interviews with Neville Alexander (UKZN Press, edited by Karen Press et al) will be celebrated at the Sonskyndienssentrum in Michausdal with readings from the chapter on Alexander’s childhood in Cradock.
Friday morning (25 July) continues the Karoo theme with one of the region’s more influential voices – Antony (Stoep Zen) Osler – setting the tone. Paul Walters will then offer insights into letters between Eve Palmer and her sister-in-law during the writing of The Plains of Camdeboo. Visitors who prefer to stretch their legs can join the Literary Walking Tour of Old Cradock led by Brian Wilmot who started the popular walking tours in Grahamstown. As a pre-lunch aperitif, Stephen Gray will launch his new collection of poetry, Rough Passage.
Heritage food champion, Niël Stemmet takes over at noon, presenting his latest book: back+page – heritage food word journeys (Lapa, 2014). The event includes a Harvest Table lunch presented by Cradock’s Andalet Olivier, with inspirations from Stemmet’s sout+peper.
After lunch, travel blogger “The Incidental Tourist”, Dawn Jorgensen will lead a workshop on social media. This is selling out fast.
Instead of the workshop, foodies can opt to share ideas on foraging with Gordon Wright (author of Veld to Fork) and artisanal distiller Roger Jorgensen.
A tour of Lingelihle township’s historic landmarks and a chance to meet residents and hear their stories is another option for Friday afternoon.
As the shadows lengthen, Chris and Julienne Marais of Karoo Keepsakes fame present their exciting new e-books as well as the Afrikaans translations of their two Karoo best-sellers.
Randall Wicomb is the star of the evening. His concert is presented by the Cradock 200 committee as a contribution to the festival. Randall has promised Cradock a memorable experience, featuring highlights from his 30-year career as a poet, musician, performer. He will include some of the haunting Griqua Psalms as well as numbers from his latest album, Êrens is Jy, featuring popular and literary love poems set to music.
Saturday (26 July) starts with a Schreiner focus. Editors Professor Liz Stanley and Dr Andrea Salter (both based at Edinburgh University) will present the new volume of Schreiner letters, The World’s Great Question, published by the Van Riebeeck Society. The collection includes over 300 of Olive Schreiner’s key letters on South African people, politics and its racial order. In Stanley’s words: ‘They are often prophetic and can still send shivers down the spine. Immensely readable and insightful.’
Professor Tony Voss (resident in Australia) will talk about the early Olive Schreiner novel, Undine and the clues it gives to what she read as a child. “She was no ordinary child and no ordinary reader,” he says. Hogsback’s own Fullbright Scholar, Lucy Graham, will discuss Lilian Ncgobo’s fictional response to Olive’s Schreiner’s last novel, From Man to Man.
There are two parallel sessions on Saturday morning (26 July). In the first, Cradock matrics will watch the Karoo Film Company’s feature film Die Balade van Robbie de Wee (English sub-titles) and then Deon Meyer will explain how he wrote the film (which was directed by Darryl Roodt). Adults can attend as observers.
In the second parallel session, skrik-vir-niks writer/eco-adventurer Patricia Glyn will present an illustrated talk on what she refers to as her “Bushman adventures”.
At midday, the festival moves to Schreiner House for a finger lunch and the launch of a comprehensive new interpretive display on Schreiner’s life and work. Professor Dirk Klopper (of Rhodes Department of English) is the speaker.
Two live interviews headline the afternoon proceedings. Etienne Van Heerden will share memories of his childhood and how they influence his writing. Deon Meyer will discuss his latest thriller, Cobra (Kobra). He and the novel (already translated into a number of languages) have been received to huge acclaim at major international book fairs this year including Dubai and Lyon (France).
The day’s formal business ends with the popular Open Microphone session where a variety of the writers present short readings from their own and other works. This leads into an informal tapas evening followed by a second screening of Die Balade van Robbie de Wee (English sub-titles).
Along with momentous literary encounters, visitors can expect lots of surprises and discoveries along with programme favourites – including readings, impromptu chats, stoep sitting, book sales, great food and excursions. (Planning is underway for the traditional ‘pilgrimage’ to the Schreiner sarcophagus on Sunday 27 July.)
Other highlights to look out for are Joan-Mari Barendse’s talk “A South African zombie apocalypse: Lily Herne’s Mall Rats series” and Daniela Pitt’s talk, “The need for zero: The utopian impulse in Eben Venter’s Trencherman“.
Read more about the colloquium and see the programme below, which includes abstracts for the talks:
We are delighted to be hosting the End Times Colloquium at the University of the Witwatersrand. The city is a historical, social and economic concatenation. In only a few other locations in the Global South does the past linger so conspicuously in the emergent. It is a cliché to speak of postcolonial cities as consisting in contrasts, but Johannesburg manifests the ways in which the post-apartheid order (also in its pan-Africanism and particular globalization) has spilled over the cordons sanitaire of apartheid urban planning. Perhaps, as has been suggested by Jean and John Comaroff, Euro-America is evolving towards Johannesburg – perhaps our city is a compelling place in, and from, which to see and theorize the world.
This novel is the fourth of Afrikaans author Ingrid Winterbach’s to be translated into English. Its translator, Leon de Kock, provides notes on how she is steadily enjoying greater acclaim.
The Road of Excess puts Ingrid Winterbach in a new league – that of Afrikaans writers, including Etienne van Heerden, Antjie Krog, Marlene van Niekerk, Andre Brink and Breyten Breytenbach, whose works are routinely translated into English.
Winterbach is something of a literary-prize champion of champions, having won the cream-of-the-crop Hertzog prize twice, and scooping up three M-Net awards, too.
Like her other novels translated into English, The Elusive Moth, To Hell with Cronje, and The Book of Happenstance, The Road of Excess is written in what might be described as a “bookish” style: it relies on allusions to a constellation of works in both visual and literary culture, and it is also more conceptually driven than plot-motored.
Her books offer intricate circumstances in which loss, memory and rediscovery play into each other in highly contingent individual conditions.
Indeed, in Winterbach’s writing, it is only via the novel’s ability to relativise perspective, shuffle belief and knowledge systems, and play with point of view that the actual conditions of living – as opposed to the seriocomic myths by which people live – can be adequately revealed.
“Seriocomic” is in fact an apt word to describe Winterbach’s writing, since all her stories play their serious meditations on the nature of life, art, science and cosmology off against moments of excellently dry humour. Winterbach’s comic touch combines a compassionate form of satire with penetrating but gentle irony.
In doing all these things, her writing is lean, gathering its energy from understatement rather than its opposite. In this regard, her work often reminds me of that of JM Coetzee.
I put this idea to her, saying that I had described her work to an American recently as an Afrikaans version of Coetzee – meta-reflexive, playful, allusive and cerebral. She pooh-poohed the suggestion, saying that if she was anything like the famous writer, it was “Coetzee Lite”. She added: “I don’t think of myself as a cerebral writer. Possibly since I’m not a conceptual writer. And I’m much more seduced by surface – describing the contours of a face, the physiognomy of limbs and landscape. My narratives unfold in a very tentative, explorative manner.”
Well, you could have fooled me.
The Road of Excess tells the story of two brothers, Aaron and Stefaans Adendorff, the one an ailing artist, the other a recovering addict. Aaron, the novel’s main character, finds himself in a nervous state throughout the story (often comically so) because his gallerist, Eddie Knuvelder, appears not only to have abandoned him, but also to be dying.
Aaron’s new neighbour, Bubbles Bothma, is a “prankster” who quotes Milton one moment, and offers to have gallerist Knuvelder’s knees smashed the next, to “teach him a lesson”.
Aaron recently survived a bout of cancer, and he now faces both a sense of encircling mortality and the fear that his art medium – oil on canvas – has become hopelessly outdated. His gallerist appears to prefer, above him, two conceptual artists, who work with video and waste objects like engine oil and blood.
Meanwhile, the embracing theme of “going under” (the Afrikaans title, Die Benederyk, suggests an “underworld” of death and degeneration) plays out in brother Stefaans’s wide-ranging stories, memories and quips about the descent into the hell that was his drug addiction, his “road of excess” which, in Romantic poet William Blake’s famous line, “leads to the palace of wisdom”.
The Afrikaans version of The Road of Excess won the M-Net Prize in 2011. Her most recent novel, Die Aanspraak van Lewende Wesens, is under translation by Michiel Heyns. Winterbach’s novels, by all accounts, are an acquired taste, like single-malt whiskey. The connoisseurs love her.