Tag Archives: Double Negative

Interview: Ivan Vladislavić and 101 Detectives

101 DetectivesThe FollyMy first encounter with Ivan Vladislavić’s writing took place in a multidimensional construct of language and fantasy that is his remarkable novel The Folly (1993). It must have been around a decade ago when I moved to South Africa. Since then I have always returned to his books with a great sense of anticipation which has never been disappointed. His latest collection of stories, 101 Detectives, is no different, although it baffled me in the beginning. The first three pieces made me think a lot about the intellectual playfulness of The Folly. Some of the stories are set in recognisable and yet shifted or alternative realities which are quite uncanny. In a recent e-interview I asked Vladislavić whether this was his way of avoiding the cliché trap, of challenging the impression of one of his characters that “no matter what I do or say, or how I remember it or tell it, it will never be interesting enough” (“Exit Strategy”)? He hadn’t gone about it “deliberately”, he wrote, and mentioned that in his youth he read “a lot of sci-fi and was taken with writers like Ray Bradbury, who could twist the ordinary into the alien very skilfully through a kind of estranging lyricism”. Of his own early work he says that “the strangeness is more a product of language and imagery than of constructed setting.” More recently he had read speculative fiction again, “which may account for the atmosphere of a story like ‘Report on a Convention’. Many ordinary contemporary spaces are strange. One grows accustomed to it, but the precincts and lifestyle estates often have a weirdly layered, compelling artificiality to them. They’re at such an odd angle to the surrounding world that ‘shifting’ them would make them feel less rather than more peculiar.”

Reading and listening to Vladislavić, the key word I associate with his work is “intellectual”, especially in conjunction with “stimulation”, and it is the main reason why I read him. He challenges me, inspires me to question reality and literature, to perceive both more consciously and often with deeper appreciation. I delight in the engagement. When I think Vladislavić, I also think art, photography, beauty, language, and, perhaps above all, Johannesburg. Few have written as perceptively about Johannesburg as he, “mapping and mythologising” the city (in the words of Elleke Boehmer). Few can employ language to capture not only the beauty of experience, but the beauty of language itself to such stunning effect. Few have entered collaborations with artists of different media, as victoriously enhancing the disciplines in the process. In 2010, together with the South African photographer David Goldblatt, Vladislavić published TJ & Double Negative, a novel with photographs. More recently he worked with Sunandini Banerjee on an illustrated novella titled A Labour of Moles (2012), and 101 Detectives also includes a “Special Feature”: a gallery of photocopies of dead letters, ie letters never delivered to their intended recipients because of address errors and suchlike, referred to in the story “Dead Letters”. There are also images of the places they were supposed to have reached, taken from an exhibition in Poland dedicated to them.

What appeals to Vladislavić in this kind of exchange? I wondered…

Continue reading: LitNet

Feeling glamorous

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I don’t like shopping, especially for clothes & shoes. For special occasions, I still wear the dress I bought for my first high school reunion in 1997. I still wear the red shoes I bought at university, patches, tears, new soles & all (the other day I found the picture I drew of them in my diary at the time of the first fit…). I don’t wear make-up. I go to the hairdresser once a year. The last time I dressed up, had my hair put up, and asked a friend’s sister, a make-up artist, to do my face, it was for the M-Net Literary Awards dinner in 2011. I was a judge for the English category and wanted to celebrate the evening (Ivan Vladislavić’s remarkable Double Negative won).

INSIGYesterday, I had coffee with my lovely editor, Danél Hanekom, and we discussed my next novel. We also spoke about girly stuff like rugby. Awards dinners were mentioned. I remembered the M-Net evening, and how people approached my husband asking where I was while I was standing right next to him. Nobody seemed to recognise me all made up. I also recalled the day when Erns Grundling, Antonia Steyn, and an entire team of make-up artists, hairdressers, and assistants descended on our house to interview André and me for Insig a few months after our wedding in 2006. They took three hours to make me look the way I did in the photographs. I wore red lipstick! Next day, my back was sore from sitting up on a make-up chair for those three hours. When during a break I went to the bathroom, I looked up from the sink and got a fright – I did not recognise the face in the mirror.
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After meeting Danél, I passed a boutique on the way to my car. On a whim, I went in and looked at all the long dresses they had. There was one that, like my red shoes so many years ago, had my name on it. They had my size. The silk felt like heaven on my skin. I haven’t been sleeping well lately and I have lost some weight, so my poor figure and pale face looked tired in the fitting room’s mirror, but with a dress like that flowing from my shoulders I had to smile, and I simply felt glamorous again. So I bought it. Now, all I need is an invitation to another awards dinner…
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Photographs by Antonia Steyn.