Published in the Sunday Times
The Ecstasy of Brush Strokes ***
Rachel Haze, MF Books / Joburg, R180
As a child of the Karoo and a closet reader of hygromans, can you imagine my delight when I found The Ecstasy of Brush Strokes by Rachel Haze (a nom de plume), hailed as Fifty Shades of the Karoo?
I loved the deliciously flawed character of Alex, who packs up her art supplies and flees to a town near Beaufort West to get away from her marriage and her restless mind.
I liked how unlikable Alex is – her inner dialogue and feelings are well-crafted and you feel empathy for her self-destructive tendencies. Haze creates a three-dimensional character that grows from a love-struck student to a disillusioned adult struggling to find her place in the world.
The vivid, imaginative and wonderfully over-the-top sex scenes between Alex and her Rhodes psychology tutor are enjoyable, as are those with her S&M-obsessed husband and others. The author clearly knows her art and uses it to illuminate the inner world of Alex and the lovers she inhabits.
However, the author fails to capture the nuances of the Karoo; it remains dry and dusty, the people in the township are all on social grants, and everyone’s suffering.
At times it feels like the author tries too hard to be clever, for example when she compares sex to biltong, or in her description of Grahamstown as “a small town in the middle of nowhere, far removed from the civilising hand of urban life” that had a “way of chopping students up into little pieces and then delicately throwing them out into some kind of colonial ether”. Huh?
Wayward typos (“throws of passion”, “spilt second”) and a superficial engagement with the landscape undermine an otherwise sexy and smart novel. @Annawriter_