The good old days turn bad

07 August 2013 - 02:52 By Andrew Donaldson

Short, sharp guidance and observations from a journalist with attitude. All books available from Exclusives


The Gardener from Ochakov by Andrey Kurkov, translated by Amanda Love Darragh (Harvill Secker) R220

Readers annoyed with the "it-was-better-under-apartheid" moaners will find much to relish in this darkly comic savaging of the nostalgia for the Soviet era that is prevalent in the former USSR. Here, 30-year-old Igor Andreevna wears an old Soviet cop uniform to a costume party and is transported back in time to 1957 Kiev; it's certainly not the happy time and place his mother and her friends have sentimentally described. As Igor flips back and forth between the two centuries, his adventures grow increasingly complicated and bizarre.


The farcical, short-lived banning of Jahmil Qubeka's Of Good Report, on the grounds that a simulated sex scene in the film with a predator teacher who seduces a 16-year-old pupil was deemed to be "child pornography", has a squirming, uncomfortable echo in the controversy surrounding American writer Alissa Nutting's debut novel, Tampa.

Based on the real-life case of Debra Lafave, the Florida teacher jailed for having sex with a pupil in 2005, it's about a 26-year-old teacher, Celeste, who grooms a 14-year-old boy for a series of encounters that are unflinchingly graphic in detail. It's been described as "disgusting" and "sickening", and even banned by book stores. Because it's written from Celeste's point of view, critics have complained of being held hostage by a sociopath.

Reacting to the controversy, Nutting told the Guardian: "There are rules for female sexuality and there are ways that you're allowed to be extreme and it's in a very submissive, romantic way. It's not to say anyone should be comfortable with my book, but I think that's why the shock at this book is so great, because female sexual agency in general is not fully accepted."

Nutting, who was at school with Lafave, said the case taught her to question the view that boys in these cases were hardly victims. "There is this absolute belief a lot of people have which is, 'he wanted it, how could it be a crime?' I think this is very faulty logic."


A dark, psychological thriller about a dysfunctional marriage, told by warring partners in alternating chapters. That's a description of 2012's go-to blockbuster, Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. It also describes 2013's great sleeper hit, ASA Harrington's acclaimed debut The Silent Wife. Sadly, it will be the previously unknown Canadian writer's only novel. Harrington, 65, died of cancer in April - two weeks before her book hit the shelves.


"They think of us as part mother substitute, part superior cat." - Cat Sense: The Feline Enigma Revealed by John Bradshaw (Allen Lane)