BOOK BITES | Nina Allan, Sanam Maher, Sarah Blake

An atmospherically dark modern fairytale, an authentic description of how the murdered Qandeel Baloch changed Pakistan society and a multi-generational family saga exploring prejudice

25 August 2019 - 00:00 By Sunday Times Books

Published in the Sunday Times: 25/08/2019

This week's reads.
This week's reads.
Image: Supplied

The Dollmaker ****
Nina Allan, Quercus, R325

There is a renewed interest in dolls and fairytales in novels. These tales are often either whimsical or eerie, and Allan manages to capture all of this in her latest book. The lonely, diminutive Andrew Garvie has always lived in his own world, obsessed with dolls. He develops a relationship of sorts with his "soul mate" and pen pal Bramber Winters, who is in a mental institution. She sought his help with her biography on Ewa Chaplin, a Polish writer as well as dollmaker, whose hand-sewn creations are now exhibited in museums. Interspersed between Andrew and Bramber's story are Chaplin's macabre and spine-chilling modern fairytales. The Dollmaker is atmospherically dark and Allan has written a timeless tale. Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

A Woman Like Her: The Short Life of Qandeel Baloch ****
Sanam Maher, Bloomsbury, R410

She was labelled Pakistan's Kim Kardashian, posting images and videos of herself dancing, giving updates and commenting on day-to-day issues. Loved and hated in patriarchal Pakistan, Qandeel Baloch was the country's first female social-media celebrity. So when she was murdered by her brother, the country was divided. Did this woman, who broke stereotypes, "deserve" death or was she on the precipice of changing societal norms? Raised poor, Qandeel always craved the spotlight. Despite the constant slew of hate thrown her way, she not only smashed gender expectations, she was also able to make enough money to support her family in rural Multan. When asked why he killed his sister, Waseem Zeem said it was because she made "Facebook videos". Maher presents an authentic and detailed description of how Qandeel, even in death, changed Pakistan society. Jessica Levitt @jesslevitt

The Guest Book ***
Sarah Blake, Viking, R290

This multi-generational family saga follows the Miltons from 1935 to the present. As the family's great wealth thins over the decades, the future of their private island becomes uncertain. To some it is a refuge; a property bought after a horrible tragedy where happier memories were made. But to those who are black, Jewish, new money, and not-quite-right, the island is a symbol of a class system where even being white doesn't necessarily make you white enough. An uncomfortable read of longing, mistakes, prejudice and drive. Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie