How to be a feminist? What does it mean to be a good parent, especially a good mother? What is success? What is justice and how does it relate to ethics? How can reading and writing help with the answers to these, and other, vital questions? Somewhere in Between is Niki Malherbe’s attempt at resolving some of these conundrums in the context of her own life. She dedicates her book “To all women who try hard to get the balance right and all the men who do too”.
Malherbe is also the author of From Courtrooms to Cupcakes. In Somewhere in Between, she continues the themes of her debut, trying to reconcile her private and professional aspirations. Her background is in law. She is a wife and a mother of four. Writing is her enduring passion. She is an avid reader, and it is the writers who intrigue her, along with her family’s experiences, that fuel her literary pursuits. Somewhere in Between is part diary, part memoir, part essay; throughout, Malherbe comments on the authors she turns to when seeking guidance or comfort. Writing a book is like having a relative in jail, she says: “You don’t want to admit it but it’s very tricky to hide.”
Oscar Pistorius is no relation to the author, but she is writing at the time of his trial. As she watches the proceedings, she approaches the case not only through the lens of her legal training and feminism, but also from the perspective of a mother.
Malherbe tries to narrow and unpick the ambiguities she encounters on her path. Like most of us, she has her blind spots: occasionally dismissing her own writing as “frivolous” and her thinking as “trivial” – whereas she wants to and should be taken seriously; or, probably unconsciously, using terminology that undermines her feminist perspective; and often leaving the women who, willingly or not, never become mothers out of her considerations. However, to her credit, she does not settle for any easy, sloppy answer. And, many of the conflicts she describes remain unresolved, despite her attempt to tackle them head-on. For some, only approximations are possible; there simply are no straightforward solutions.
There were moments in the book where I wished Malherbe had dared more, especially when the narrative becomes self-reflective, but what she already reveals – especially her doubts, anxiety and envy – is extremely courageous and her pursuit of truth and understanding deserves not only applause but close examination. Somewhere in Between opens up many conversations we could all profit from taking further. Along with Mary Pipher, Malherbe believes that: “Using words, writers have the opportunity to bring justice and make their own mark on the world.” That is the incalculable power of storytelling and we can do much worse than endeavour to make sense of the world and find what gives meaning to our existence.
Somewhere in Between
by Niki Malherbe
Review first published in the Cape Times on 1 February 2019.