Monthly Archives: October 2015

Why Jack?

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It might have been the attitude with which he left the diner. Or his ice blue eyes. Perhaps the way he had his coffee.

He arrived, as always, unexpected. Without a clue how badly he was needed.

Nobody calls him Jack. Not even his mother. But that is who he is to me.

I reached out to Killing Floor at a time in my life when everything had become difficult, including breathing. And to stay alive, I need breathing as much as I need reading. It is a matter of survival, of being who I am. In the early stages of widowhood, I had to learn everything anew. How to breathe, to sleep, to eat. To smile. I picked up books in the hope of reclaiming a little bit of myself, a sense of stability, some solace, and an escape from my unbearable new reality, but every page was a struggle. Books which would have taken me two or three days to read, lasted for long agonising weeks. I was desperate. Until I picked up Jack Reacher on a roadside, typically hitchhiking out of town.

Lee Child’s hero is 21st-century’s Mr Darcy. “All men want to be like him and all women want to fuck him,” as Reacher was introduced to another fan who related the comment to me.

But why? Ungainly tall, mostly scruffy, socially awkward, a man of few words, he is not exactly the most attractive individual out there. But his allure is undisputed. Millions of fans around the world breathlessly awaiting the publication of the next instalment in the series every September can attest to the fact.

Jack Reacher grew up as a military brat, a third-culture kid, at home everywhere and nowhere. I relate to that. We have a coffee habit and a thing for numbers in common. When we know what we want, we go for it. We don’t do regrets.
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Jack went to West Point, served thirteen years in the military police and retired in the rank of Major. Since then, he roams the American landscape (with only occasional detours abroad), a folded toothbrush in his pocket and some cash in the bank, taking on odd jobs when necessary, stepping in whenever injustice crosses his path. He has a heart of gold and an admirable integrity. He never walks away from a situation before both are satisfied.
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Killing Floor (1997), the first in the now 20-titles strong series, is breathtakingly good. I was hooked after only a few pages. The exhilaration of devouring a book again at breakneck speed came with such a relief that I immediately bought the next one, and the next, and the next (once I even ventured out into a freezing and rainy Sunday night at quarter to nine and sped like a maniac through town to Exclusive Books before they closed because I’d just finished a Reacher novel and couldn’t bear to face a night without the following in my hands). By about the third or fourth, I was telling all my friends and all strangers willing to listen about my fascination (obsession or addiction might better describe it), and my gratitude (infinite). With the Reacher books, my hunger for all kinds of reading returned to me. Back in full force, it is the only thing from my past which has pulled through the greatest loss of my life unscathed.

With the exception of the latest, Make Me (which I simply could not resist), and Worth Dying For (which I turned to when I couldn’t find a copy of 61 Hours in time), I am reading the series in the sequence of publication. I intend to trace all the Jack Reacher short stories next. And then, the long wait until next September will set in. But like Jack, I am extremely patient.

It has been interesting to see how the series and the protagonist develop, responding to technological innovations (cell phones, ATMs, WWW) as well as changing socio-political realities (for example, Gone Tomorrow’s astute post-9/11 commentary), or ageing, human vulnerabilities. As the series progresses, chapters become shorter, cliff-hangers more irresistible. The writing is great. Just great. Child switches between first- and third-person, exploiting the diverse advantages both offer (although I do prefer the former). The dialogue is crisp and intelligent. The sense of humour deliciously dry. I enjoy the feminist touches: women are treated as equals in all respects. Jack has no ‘type’: the women he falls for come from different backgrounds, and are all strong, independent characters. Descriptive passages (landscape, weather, architecture, and especially the fight choreography) are intricately balanced between fast pace, slow motion, and, at times, pure poetry.

“It was raining and grey on the western peaks, and in the east the sun was slanting down through the edge of the clouds and gleaming off the tiny threads of snow in the high gullies.”
(The Visitor)

Child can capture the essence of a character in a few phrases.

“She looked like a solid, capable woman. She was about sixty years old, maybe more, white, blunt and square, with blond hair fading slowly to yellow and grey. Plenty of old German genes in there, or Scandinavian.” (Worth Dying For)

Consider a few of the opening lines:
“I was arrested in Eno’s diner.” (Killing Floor)
“The cop climbed out of his car exactly four minutes before he got shot.” (Persuader)
“They found out about him in July and stayed angry all through August.” (Without Fail)
“Moving a guy as big as Keever wasn’t easy.” (Make Me)

I can no longer count how many people I got into Jack. Only one person was disappointed with my recommendation. All others are as addicted as I am. It has been delightful to discover which of my friends had been fans for much longer than I. I keep getting messages of thanks. We all share stories of how Jack features in our lives. To me, he has become a trusted, reliable friend. I turn to him for adventure and smart entertainment – always a bloody-good read!
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Tense, entertaining, intriguing and never predictable, the Jack Reachers thrillers belong to the best of their kind.

And! The sex is good.

To find out more, join us for Cape Town’s celebration of Jack Reacher, and get Make Me at a 20% discount on the night!
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IF IN DOUBT, READ REACHER!

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Under my skin

It is one of those moments that has the potential to alter your entire life. Your hand and mind freeze. Time passes. Tentatively, you begin to move your fingertips again. Touch. Feel. You remember to breathe, but your thoughts are racing towards denial.

Finding a suspicious lump in your breasts is one of the most frightening experiences. And no matter how much you are aware of what needs to be done under the circumstances, for at least a while you live in a limbo of trying to explain the reality of the find away. It took me a few days to make an appointment with a doctor. I suspect that it might have taken me even longer if it hadn’t been for the second lump I discovered: much smaller than the first one, but so painful I could no longer put on a bra.

I made the call. In the afternoon I watched the doctor’s worried face as she examined me, finding many more lumps. I confessed that I had been too scared to touch my breasts after the second discovery. The doctor said that what we were feeling was most likely caused by hormonal changes that come and go and that I had nothing to worry about, but there was one lump – the first – that was unusual and that it was better to check it out. She immediately phoned the radiologist and made an appointment.

Driving home, it was tough not to give in to tears and despair. I have been through so much this year, but the last few weeks have been different, more stable, calmer. And suddenly I was facing another possible game changer all over again. I felt suspended, unable to grasp the options unfolding in front of me. I remembered the good advice of one of my Austrian doctors: “Karina, go home, go for a brisk walk along the Mattig, drink a glass of red wine, and go to bed,” he said. I was lying with my head down on his desk, so ill that I thought I would never get healthy again.

“But I have a serious fever, am taking antibiotics, it’s minus ten outside, and snowing,” I mumbled into the desk.

“Do as told, go!” he ordered.

I did. After the walk and the wine, I fell into a deep sleep on my brother’s couch. When I woke up hours later, I felt better. It was a turning point. After weeks of struggling with terrible infections, I began to recover.

And so, remembering the good doctor, I drove home, went for a long walk along the Liesbeek River, had a glass of red wine and went to bed with a book (yes, Jack Reacher).

A week passed in which I tried to keep the fear at bay, tried really hard not to think about the near future too much. On the day of my mammogram (my first ever), driving to the hospital, I was fully aware that this could be the day when everything changes and life is never the same again.

The examination was nothing like I heard or imagined. Painless, quick and done with a lot of care and understanding, despite the fact that apparently bony women with tiny breasts experience the most discomfort. I am both, but I didn’t. The ultrasound afterwards was more unpleasant, but also performed with so much care that I felt safe and in the best of professional hands.

I didn’t have to wait long for the results. All clear. All benign. Nothing sinister.

The relief was so enormous I wanted to jump and dance at the hospital. Instead I sent messages to friends who wanted to know my news. Two were waiting with coffee and croissants. We celebrated. The day did not turn out to be THAT DAY. I am lucky. But many other women go through the trauma of a cancer diagnosis on days like these. For them life changes irrevocably. Many recover, but not all. Moira died earlier this year. She was my age. When she was diagnosed, it was much too late to do anything. I wonder whether she had felt the threat, but was overwhelmed by denial for too long to be saved.

October is breast cancer awareness month. Be wiser than me: Don’t wait, don’t let the fear paralyse you, act. Please.