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Jacket Notes: Sam Scarborough on her book Trapped, a story about verbal and emotional abuse

Published in the Sunday Times

Sam Scarborough (Human and Rousseau)

My story is about verbal and emotional abuse. I wrote the book initially to help me understand what was going on in the relationship I was in. It was a diary of events and conversations that I felt I had to record so that I would not have to constantly question my sanity. I was being accused of things that I knew were not my doing, nor my fault, so I thought I was going mad. Adding to that, I could not believe that I had got myself into an abusive relationship, me, the strong one, the Leo, the independent woman. So I started writing a diary, to keep track of events and to make sure I was not imagining things.

Shattered dreams went into this book, along with written accounts of each day, my thoughts and emotions, while I waited to see what the evening would bring, when my partner, more often than not, came home drunk.

The inspiration to publish was because, many years ago, I helped a friend get out of an abusive relationship by giving her a book to read. I can’t remember what the book was, but it helped her. And this is why I published, because if this book helps just one person, then it was meant to be a book and not just a sad diary sitting on my laptop taking up megabytes. I hope that by reading about my experience, other woman may find the courage to get out of whatever situation they are in.

At times, I found writing and reading the book tedious because I could see the repeat pattern of behaviour. Yet it took time for me to come to grips with the situation and to finally leave. I was angry that I had allowed myself to get into the situation in the first place. And when I wrote the book, I was still very angry – the book definitely has this tone. And I tried not to edit the anger out, even though it didn’t make me look good at times.

This was the difficulty – including the truth of it, without making it sound glamorous, or better. Some people have asked me why I would want to tell people about what happened. Others have said I am very brave. But mostly, people have encouraged me to tell my story.

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Book bites: 14 August 2016

Published in the Sunday Times

Somewhere Out ThereSomewhere Out There
Amy Hatvany (Simon & Schuster)
Book fling
This is an absorbing story because of the concept: how the lives of two sisters diverge after their mother gives them up for adoption. The women are convincing characters, despite being stereotypical at times. The suspense of whether they will track down their mother keeps the reader involved. She is the third character and the novel opens with her decision. This is light reading with a similar texture to the tangled family themes in Jodi Picoult’s books. What gives it an edge, however, is the thought-provoking issues the book raises including the rehabilitation of prisoners, the benefits of fostering children and the gift and complexity of adoption. — Claire Keeton @ClaireKeetonST

The Crow GirlThe Crow Girl
Erik Axl Sund (Harvill Secker)
Book thrill
At nearly 800 pages this doorstopper (originally published as a trilogy) shows Scandinavian noir at its most badass. Complex and somewhat confusing, the book features a murderer motivated by revenge and retribution against a cult which practised child abuse, incest and sex slavery. Detective Superintendent Jeanette Kihlberg enlists the help of psychologist Sofia Zetterlund but finds more than she expected in this disturbing thriller. The Crow Girl is heavy in every sense of the word but if you’re a fan of the genre it’s worth ploughing through the twists of this convoluted plot. — Aubrey Paton

I'm the Girl Who Was RapedI’m The Girl Who Was Raped
Michelle Hattingh (Modjaji Books)
Book buff
“My story is ordinary because too many women share my story. My story is worth telling because too many women identify with it,” Hattingh says at the end of her powerfully honest autobiography. On the day she presents her honours thesis, “Any Man Can Rape”, to a captivated lecture hall she is later raped, tied up on the rocks of a Cape Town beach with another girl. This is her story of survival. In an attempt to redefine herself as other than “the girl who was raped”, Hattingh unpacks the stigmatisation of rape and the emotional impact it had on her, her family and friends. She exposes the atrocities society pins on women who are raped, the inadequacies of our health system in dealing with rape, and how women assign themselves the blame when they are raped. This is an important story. It’s for every woman and man – a book that tells the story of so many women in South Africa, and around the world. — Kelly Ansara @QueenKelso

The Curious Charms of Arthur PepperThe Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper
Phaedra Patrick (HarperCollins)
Book buff
Arthur Pepper has decided that it’s time. A year after his wife’s death, he’s going to go through her things. This is how he finds the hidden charm bracelet, and begins his amazing search for the stories behind each charm. His detective work leads him across the globe, and uncovers many a hidden truth about his wife and himself. It’s a journey of brilliant self-discovery which features tea, tigers, harem pants and art. More importantly, he learns that old wounds can be healed, and that not all that is gone is forgotten. A beautiful, moving tale which is the duck-feather duvet of stories – comforting, warm and happy. — Samantha Gibb @samantha_gibb

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Guilty of captivation: Bron Sibree talks to bestselling author Liane Moriarty about her latest novel Truly Madly Guilty

Reading Liane Moriarty’s novels is an innocent pleasure, writes Bron Sibree for the Sunday Times

Truly Madly GuiltyTruly Madly Guilty
Liane Moriarty (Penguin Random House)

Imagine lunching in Los Angeles with one of Hollywood’s finest. If you think that’s surreal, then you know just how author Liane Moriarty felt this April, when she sat down to lunch with Reese Witherspoon. Along with Nicole Kidman, Witherspoon is among a formidable line-up of luminaries starring in an HBO series based on Moriarty’s sixth novel, Big Little Lies. Then came a meeting with the legendary writer and producer David E Kelley, who has adapted Big Little Lies for the screen. “It was a real honour for me, but a very surreal experience,” says Moriarty. “That’s the only word I can use, it’s so difficult to describe how it feels.”

For the Australian-born Moriarty, this capped a momentous year during which three of her novels not only hit the New York Times bestseller list, but film options to all three were snapped up by major studios. CBS was first off the mark, optioning her fourth novel, The Husband’s Secret, and Jennifer Aniston is now attached to TriStar’s adaptation of her fifth, What Alice Forgot. Not that Moriarty is any stranger to success. Well before her US breakthrough – which brought her worldwide sales to more than six million — she had garnered a doting international readership, and admits she has long “felt lucky to be able to make a living from writing”.

The imminent release of her seventh novel, Truly Madly Guilty, marks 13 years she has now spent crafting the kind of novels that prompted Kirkus Reviews to describe her as “an edgier, more provocative and bolder successor to Maeve Binchy”. Moriarty dreamt of being a writer since the age of eight, but lost her confidence in adulthood, becoming a copywriter instead. She recalls it was only when her sister, Jaclyn, published a teen novel that sibling rivalry took over and she felt compelled to write her own debut novel. “I remain eternally grateful to her.”

She was 36 when the success of that debut, Three Wishes, enabled her to quit her advertising job and write her second, The Last Anniversary, which folded potent thematic concerns, believable characters and a quirky brand of humour into a superbly plotted mystery. Five novels on, Truly Madly Guilty speaks to a different set of thematic concerns, yet still reprises familiar ones. Notably guilt. “I do seem to keep returning to guilt a lot in my novels, and I feel guilty about it,” laughs Moriarty. “But I’m just interested in it. Women seem to be pretty good at it, certainly it’s an emotion I struggle with on a daily basis.”

Truly Madly Guilty has a mystery at its heart, shaped around an unspoken-of event at a barbecue. Revolving around three disparate couples, it also probes the nature of a lifelong friendship between two successful women. Erica’s miserable childhood had led to her being unofficially adopted by Clementine’s family since both first attended school, and their adult friendship is sharply observed by Moriarty.

“I’ve known many people who were unofficially adopted by other families because of their difficult home lives. Families just let them become part of their family, which is an amazing thing that people do, but not an official thing. I then thought, what if one member of the unofficial ‘adoptive’ family didn’t really like this person, and how they’d then have this permanent struggle between wanting to feel generous but feeling guilty.”

Now 49, Moriarty, intends taking cues from Margaret Drabble. “If you look at her books, her characters seem to have aged along with her, and I love that. So I’d like to do the same thing.” She also ranks Anne Tyler at the top of her list of inspirational authors, but for Moriarty writing is a choice more than a compulsion.

“I find that I’m happier when I’m writing, I start to get a bit tetchy when I’m not. I hadn’t realised that until I wrote Three Wishes, and then I felt so relieved. Imagine,” she adds softly, “I could have gone my whole life and not realised that something was missing.”

Follow Bron Sibree on Twitter @BronSibree

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The devil wears safari suits: Ken Barris reviews Nicky Falkof's The End of Whiteness

By Ken Barris for the Sunday Times

The devil wears safari suits: Ken Barris reviews Nicky Falkof’s The End of Whiteness: Satanism and Family Murder in Late Apartheid South Africa

The End of WhitenessThe End of Whiteness: Satanism & Family Murder in Late Apartheid South Africa
Nicky Falkof (Jacana)

The book focuses two intriguing lenses on the closing decades of apartheid, namely Satanism and family murder. Falkof’s gaze is productively offset, as her centre of interest is really how the media constructed these seemingly unrelated subjects, and in doing so, how they reflected the social dynamics of late apartheid.

Head of the media studies department at the University of the Witwatersrand, Falkof has comprehensively researched her argument and mined data from the popular media. Her writing is lucid and her treatment of the subjects is interesting, leaving The End of Whiteness accessible to both general and academic audiences. It is not without its faults though. One of them is structural – she keeps returning to the same points of discussion from different points of view in different chapters, so a degree of avoidable repetition is built in.

I have a few quibbles with the argument too.

Falkof refers for example to “the Satanic panic that swept white South Africa” at the time of Nelson Mandela’s release, and describes it as a reflection of anxieties about both the collapse of white rule and the divisions within Afrikaner and other white identities. While there is no doubt that such white anxiety was (and still remains) forcefully present, I am not convinced there was a massive panic about Satanism at the time. I recall a much greater panic in white quarters about the coming of democracy itself.

This reference to the scale of the Satanism scare is densely elaborated. Falkof notes that she is “interested in Satanism as a symptom rather than a cause of social anxiety, so no, I’m not making any claims about numbers or spread”. However, her argument that the Satanism scare is a societal indicator does rest to some degree on its scale. Falkof’s focus throughout is how the media mediate. The danger is that they invent as much as they report, and density of reporting is not the same as density of occurrence on the ground. Her project – to show how media distortions open up the prevailing ideology – is entirely legitimate.

In the section on family murder (where in most cases a father murders his family and then commits or attempts suicide) Falkof argues that such murders reflect a breaking point, a faultline in which the contradictions and internal stresses of maintaining apartheid identity are confronted with the threat of its ending.

She deftly dissects various ways in which these events were represented, and the contrasting ideological positions so revealed. These range from critiques of the apartheid-defined patriarch subsuming the identities of his spouse and children, to the conservative view that the Afrikaner was under unbearable pressure in an increasingly hostile world.

In her conclusion, Falkof concedes that whiteness – an all-embracing, unconscious sense of privilege and rightness – has certainly not ended. But her book is really about perceptions. “If not an end to whiteness,” she notes, “then symptomatic reactions to the fear of the possible end of whiteness, the loss of power and privilege.” She notes ironically that even now, despite the power that whites retain, “we still operate within the same discourse of fear”.

Ken Barris’s collection of short stories, The Life of Worm & Other Misconceptions, will be available in April 2017.

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Making us laugh while it makes us think - The Curious Case of Dassoukine's Trousers, the English debut from award-winning Moroccan author Fouad Laroui



The Curious Case of Dassoukine's TrousersThis Fiction Friday, read an excerpt from The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers, the long-awaited English-language debut from Morocco’s most prominent contemporary writer, Fouad Laroui.

In its original French, The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers won the Prix Gouncourt de Nouvelles, France’s most prestigious literary award, for best short story collection.

In the introduction to the English edition, award-winning Moroccan-American novelist and essayist Laila Lalami says: “Laroui’s prose moves fluidly between languages, between high and low culture, between affecting personal commentary and sharp cultural associations. This constant code-switching is no doubt a testament to a life lived between cultures, and made all the richer for it.

The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers is a comic book, occasionally even a farce. [...] But beneath the humour is Laroui’s constant concern with power and displacement. His prose is delightfully energetic, filled with double entendres, and he is not afraid to experiment with syntactic structures, as he does in the story ‘Dislocation’.

“In its exploration of culture, identity and religious dogma, Dassoukine consistently makes us laugh while it makes us think. Laroui turns his appraising gaze on the foibles and foolishness of his characters – with irreverence, but never without tenderness.”

Laroui has published over 20 novels and collections of short stories, poetry, and essays, and teaches econometrics and environmental science at the University of Amsterdam. He lives between Amsterdam, Paris, and Casablanca.

The English edition of The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers is published by Deep Vellum, who published Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s Etisalat Prize-winning Tram 83.

Read an excerpt from The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers, courtesy of Words Without Borders:

* * * * *

“Belgium really is the birthplace of Surrealism,” sighs Dassoukine, staring into the distance.

I don’t respond because this phrase seems like a prologue – and in the face of a prologue, what can you do but await what follows, resigned. My commensal examines his mug of beer suspiciously, even though we are, after all, in the country that saw the birth of this pretty blonde, sometimes brunette, child—in an abbey, I’m told. The server eyes us. In this superb spot situated on the Grand-Place of Brussels, opposite the Maison du Cygne, we form a trio hanging on this thesis: “Belgium really is the birthplace of Surrealism.” This incipit is still floating in the air when Dassoukine decides to elaborate.

“What just happened to me, in any case, exceeds all bounds.”

I restrain myself from adding: “And when boundaries are crossed …”

He begins:

“So, I set out yesterday from Morocco on a very delicate mission. You know the grain harvest is off to a bad start in our country: it has rained, but not a lot. We are in desperate need of flour, but where to find it? Ukraine is in flames, the Russians cling tightly to their crops, it’s a long way to Australia. There’s only one solution: Europe. The government sends me to buy flour from Brussels. They’ve entrusted this mission to me. The country’s future is at risk. At the airport, in Rabat, they’re all on the tarmac, the ministers standing straight as yews, to bid me bon voyage as if their fate depended on little old me. Well, little … I’m taller than all of them by a head. The prime minister shakes my hand while the airplane engines roar and my eyes blur:

“‘—Get the best price, my boy, the best price! The budget of the state depends on your negotiating skills.’

“He nearly pulled my ear, as if to say, ‘the homeland is counting on you, grenadier.’ I board the plane and set sail for the haystacks. On the Place Jourdan in Brussels, I get a room in the hotel where high-flying diplomats normally stay. Check-in, shower, quick glance at the TV – the world still exists – I’ll spare you the details. I go down to have a drink at the bar. Surprise! While I’ve come to the land of Tintin to buy wheat, suddenly I find myself on the first floor at a soirée whose theme is – adjusting our glasses and leaning in to look at the placard – ‘the promotion of Alsatian wine and cuisine.’ Curious. I had thought the gastronomy on the borders of the Rhine could stand up for itself – didn’t the Maginot Line used to be there? But anyway … I mingle among the guests. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves and no one seems to notice this tall freeloading foreigner who tomorrow will be buying twenty million pounds of wheat. No one … except for two gentlemen.”

“Two gentlemen?”

“Yes, one plus one.”

“You pronounce the ‘t’ when you say it?”

Dassoukine looks at me, dumbstruck.

“I’m telling you about the fiasco of the century and the only thing you’re worried about is whether you say ‘two gentlemen’ or ‘two gennelmen’?”


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Hagen Engler shares the books that built him

Published in the Sunday Times

In the Maid's RoomIn The Maid’s Room
Hagen Engler (Jacana)

I’m most satisfied with my writing when I’m nervous about it. When I’m not sure how it will be received. It might be an experiment with form, topic or style, or just pushing the boat out further than usual. I take solace in the fact that these people did it before me, and better …
Trainspotting Screenplay
Trainspotting adaptation by John Hodge: I read this as a screenplay when it came free with a copy of Loaded magazine in the ’90s. I was stoked that a story so visceral, surreal and uncompromising could be nominated for an Academy award. The swearing, the drugs, the bodily fluids and the raw Scots dialect from Irvine Welsh’s original novel made me realise there are no limits to writing and that dialogue in local dialect can be amazing.
Thirteen Cents
Thirteen Cents by K Sello Duiker: The later Quiet Violence Of Dreams was more literary, and maybe better, but I read this first. This tiny book, with its magic realism, showed me Cape Town in such a fresh way … It became a place of dreams, monsters and people who fly. “I take out my money. Thirteen cents. I must have lost one cent on the mountain.” So powerful.
'Master Harold' ... and the Boys
‘Master Harold’ … And the Boys by Athol Fugard: Another great book that was not a novel. It gave me a broader understanding of what a book is. Of course it also taught me that as a white person, much of whatever I had was built on the exploitation of other people. It’s an intensely human story told in 60 pages. The play opens, “The St George’s Park tearoom on a wet and windy Port Elizabeth afternoon.” I grew up 500m from there, so it couldn’t be closer to home.
House Of Leaves
House Of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski: Hundreds of pages, parallel and intersecting nightmare stories. Footnotes that grow and take over the main text, drawings, photos, poems, indexes, appendices, scripts … The creepiest, most ominous, disturbing book ever. Taught me to be episodic and unfettered by form and typography. And that if you’re going to write evil, do it properly.
City Of Nine Gates by Zebulon Dread: I bought this from the author himself, hand-to-hand in Melville. I’ve always believed in self-published authors and am one myself. This book of three stories is just so unfiltered. He drops two F-bombs on the copyright page and goes hard from there. Dread was an independent voice who would not be edited or constrained. With dreadlocks, a gown and a pair of underpants, he was living his aesthetic. Confirmed to me that you can write what you like. You will be called to account for it, though, so you must be brave.
•Engler’s novel In The Maid’s Room (Jacana, R220) is about “the surfer, stoner culture of PE, but also the slow death of white entitlement”.

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