BOOK BITES | Anstey Harris, Bill Nasson & Vivian Bickford-Smith, Chris Hammer

A tale that will leave you grinning, a book about 11 extraordinary South Africans and a new Antipodean thriller writer to look forward to - here's what we read this week

14 April 2019 - 00:00
The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton, Illuminating Lives, Scrublands.
The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton, Illuminating Lives, Scrublands.
Image: Supplied

Published in the Sunday Times (14/04/2019)

The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton ****
Anstey Harris, Simon & Schuster, R305

Grace Atherton's life is a perfect cliché: she runs her own violin shop in the UK, while enjoying a nine-year romance with a married man in Paris. Until the day an act of heroism by her lover turns their world upside down. Now Grace needs to face her past and learn to live her life independently, without hiding in another's shadow. But she isn't completely alone: a salty, precocious teenager and a dapper octogenarian are there for her, if only she'll let them in. A tale that will leave you grinning. Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

Illuminating Lives ****
Bill Nasson and Vivian Bickford-Smith, Penguin Random House, R280

You've probably heard of Lillian Ngoyi and maybe even driven down the street named after her, but who was she? Illuminating Lives is about South Africans who led extraordinary lives, but have remained on the sidelines of history books. We learn of Tiyo Soga, a Xhosa Presbyterian missionary married to a Scottish woman in the 1850s; and Pat Pattle, whom Roald Dahl described as "the Second World War's greatest flying ace" in his autobiography. The book is also revealing about the nature of recorded history: of the 11 personalities covered, only two are women, showing a bias to the stories of men or demonstrating that the stories of women have not been efficiently recorded. There are many other South Africans whose lives will not be illuminated any time soon, but these 11 lives are good start. Zola Zingithwa

Scrublands *****
Chris Hammer, Headline, R330

In the drought-stricken Australian town of Riversend, just before the Sunday service, a charismatic young priest takes a high-powered rifle and shoots dead five parishioners. A police officer guns him down in turn, leaving no explanation for his behaviour. A year later, Sydney journalist Martin Scarsden arrives in the still traumatised town to write an anniversary feature. As he digs, he uncovers information that not only places the official version of events in doubt, but reveals a web of complicated and toxic relationships. When the bodies of two backpackers, who went missing just before the shooting, are found, it sets in motion events that roil Riversend and Scarsden's life. Hammer's debut novel announces a serious new Antipodean writing talent. He has perfect pitch in his characterisations, as well as in his depiction of small-town life in dusty, isolated, rural Australia. William Saunderson-Meyer @TheJaundicedEye