Writing, grieving process triggers splintered memories of dark family secrets

04 September 2020 - 11:35
'Not to Mention' is part diary, part memoir, part love-hate letter to the mother who fuelled her daughter’s addiction.
'Not to Mention' is part diary, part memoir, part love-hate letter to the mother who fuelled her daughter’s addiction.
Image: Supplied

‘Utterly compulsive. De Klerk delivers a slow drip of a story that is both beautiful and monstrous. I've never read anything like it.’
Michele Magwood, literary critic

As her 21st birthday approaches, Katy Ferreira has not left her bedroom for close on two years. In fact, she has not left her bed – at 360kg, she simply can’t.

Characterised by an indomitable spirit, Katy tries to make the best of a bad situation. She does the crossword in the Herald newspaper her mother brings home, consumes the food she craves – biscuits, pies, doughnuts, litres of fizzy drinks – and waits in hope for insulin and a solution to her plight.

To pass the time she begins to compile her own crossword in one of the Croxley notebooks that have been unused since she dropped out of school. Within each cryptic clue is a message, an attempt to explain how it feels to be “the fat girl”, how taking comfort in sweet things as a grieving and lonely child escalated into a deadly relationship with food and a psychological and physical disease.

The process triggers splintered memories of dark family secrets and hints of culpability. As Katy finds her voice – quirky, macabre, devastatingly astute and viciously funny at times – the notebooks fill up.

Not to Mention is part diary, part memoir, part love-hate letter to the mother who fuelled her daughter’s addiction as steadily as the world ostracised her. The destructive power of shame and society’s harsh judgement of people who are “different” is matched by the immense courage of a young woman who is determined to be heard.

Vivian de Klerk is Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at Rhodes University, where she devoted 30 years to teaching and research before becoming dean of students in 2008. She received the vice-chancellor’s Senior Distinguished Research Medal and, in 2019, was the recipient of the Kraak Writing Grant. Not to Mention is her first novel.