Book Bites: February 24

A local novel that unravels decolonialism and land and a book described as 'David Lynch trying his hand at chick-lit' - here's what our reviewers read this week

24 February 2019 - 00:00 By Sunday Times Books

The Broken River Tent ****
Mphuthumi Ntabeni
Blackbird Books, R195

This dense novel follows the likeable if feckless Phila as he roams the sleepy cities and moribund small towns of the Eastern Cape seeking meaning after his father's death. He acquires a companion, or perhaps a haunting, in the form of an ancestor, Maqoma, who died on Robben Island after fighting in the colonial frontier wars of the 19th century. This vivid character presents himself to Phila to educate him about his roots. Often stern, occasionally rueful and sometimes daunting, this book is a lesson in South African history, one that unravels the complexity of some of our most pressing issues, including decolonialism and land. Written in assured prose by a writer to watch, this is a worthy successor to Zakes Mda's Heart of Redness. A must-read to understand more about the knotted and bloody past of the Eastern Cape. Helen Moffett @Heckitty

The Bus on Thursday ***
Shirley Barrett, Fleet, R285

Eleanor is due a breather. She's had a terrible illness and been through a bad break-up, so the opportunity to relocate to a remote town to teach a handful of kids feels like a bonus and a balm. Except that the town is a bizarre whirlpool of weirdness where Eleanor's fragile sanity is inexorably eroded. Shirley Barrett writes with pace and dark quirkiness - it's like David Lynch trying his hand at chick-lit - and the entertainment value is high here. There are ultimately, however, a number of loose ends, making for an unsatisfactory ending that takes a little of the gloss off the reading experience. Bruce Dennill @BroosDennill

  • Published in the Sunday Times: February 24, 2019