Tag Archives: film

“That’s what friends are for”

This time it was rage. No melancholy insomnia, just a big fat stick of fury ready to explode, the fuse much too short. I had been so livid that I walked around wanting to headbutt people, especially myself for being… well, not wise, to put it mildly. A volatile state. And once again Jack arrived, all in black, mattress-pressed, and ready for another clandestine rescue mission. He has a knack for showing up when most needed. Ryno sent him. A clandestine mission expert himself, Ryno is my publicist and friend, aka Work Husband, and he knew how much I coveted Reacher #21, Night School. When the proof copies arrived in his office, one was rushed off to me. And so I went back to night school with Jack and learned some valuable lessons about his rules. Recently, I had failed to follow one, and paid dearly for disobeying. Jack knows how to trust his gut feelings, follow his instincts, analyse, predict, outsmart, wait – patiently – and strike when least expected. Night School is vintage Reacher, all tension, wits and charm. Frances Neagley is back at his side. And oh, that crisp writing which seduces me every time. Yes, all men want to be like him, all women want to… Obviously! Because:

“…her hands flat and open, her palms close to the bed, hovering, skimming a cushion of air, as if she was balancing.”

with Jack

In September, Andy Martin, the “gonzo academic”, author of the must-read Reacher Said Nothing, is one of the international Open Book Festival participants in Cape Town. If you are a Reacher fan, or a surfer, come and listen to him talk about both.

In October, the second Jack Reacher film is released, based on Never Go Back.

Night School will be published on 8 November 2016.

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So far so good: Best of 2014 book giveaway

Best of 2014_1
For me, one of the best tests for a good read is whether I find myself wanting to share it with others. The bookshops I visit will testify to the fact that I often return to the same title over and over again when searching for presents. I don’t know how many copies of the original versions and their translations into other languages I have bought in the last few years of, among others, Mark Rowlands’ The Philosopher and the Wolf, or Carsten Jensen’s We, the Drowned, or Alastair Bruce’s Wall of Days, or Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved. The authors of these books must have enjoyed at least a bottle of really nice wine or bought a book or two by other authors from the royalties my book-shopping sprees have generated for them. And it makes me happy to think that this might have been the case. Cheers!

The last six months have been particularly plentiful in good reads. I’ve been lucky. There is nothing worse than finishing a great book and encountering a dozen duds before discovering the next good one (especially if you are like me and finish most of the books you’ve started). But 2014 is turning out to be a really satisfying reading year. Of the books I’ve read until now there are twelve that I have either already bought for or at least wholeheartedly recommended to others.

The twelve titles in no particular order:

Ash WednesdayAsh Wednesday by Ethan Hawke (2002)
My dear friend Isabella and I have been fans of Ethan Hawke, the actor, since high school. I will never forget how we saw Great Expectations with him and Gwyneth Paltrow at a student cinema in Łódź – the screen was made out of three bed sheets and we sat on ordinary kitchen chairs in the audience… When we found out that Hawke was a novelist, too, I bought Isabella his debut novel as a present, and ever since then I have been meaning to read one of his books myself, but somehow never got around to it. But then earlier this year, I accidently saw Reality Bites again and thought of Isabella and decided to make up for lost time. Ash Wednesday was a real treat: Jimmy and Christy are in love, pregnant, and want to get married, but nothing is simple when you are young and life with all its choices looms large around the corner. On a road trip across America they confront their secret dreams and hidden fears, risking everything for what they believe in. Ash Wednesday is written in a crisp prose that carries you across the page like a good old Chevy Nova across an alluring landscape. It has turned me into a fan of Ethan Hawke, the novelist.

The Last Man in Russia by Oliver Bullough (2013)
I was asked to write a short review of this book for the Cape Times. The book broke my heart because it resonated so much with my memories of my native Poland. It saddens me that the one characteristic that Russians and Poles are (in)famous for in the world is their heavy drinking. Alcoholism is a plague which has taken a heavy toll on both countries. I believe that things are changing in Poland, at least that is what my family and friends assure me of, but it will take at least a generation or two for the new ways of life to have real impact on society and to begin to heal the wounds. Bullough explores the historic trauma at the root of the pandemic with incisive insight. Anybody interested in understanding that part of the world will be wise to read The Last Man in Russia. It not only throws light on the past of the region but also its current situation.

A Sportful MaliceA Sportful Malice by Michiel Heyns (2014)
I brought this book back from the FLF. It is the funniest novel I have read in the last few years. I take books with me wherever I go and I found myself reading this one in a few public places where I got a lot of curious stares from strangers because I couldn’t stop laughing while reading. Every page brings a smile to one’s face, and some of the humour is truly and deliciously dark. A Sportful Malice takes the reader to Tuscany via London Stansted on a nightmare Ryanair flight which turns out to be the least worrisome aspect of Michael Marccuci’s trip. Micheal is a gay South African literary scholar. One of his many Facebook contacts offers him a house for rent in a small Tuscan village where Michael plans to finish the book he is currently working on. On his trip, Michael encounters the obnoxious Cedric, a clumsily inexperienced but not unwilling Wouter, his eccentric (to say the least!) landlord and his wife, and the irresistible Paolo. But nobody and nothing is as it seems. Full of himself, Michael is too blind to realise that he is not entirely in charge of his fate. The novel is told in a series of Michael’s letters to his lover back home. As always, Heyns’ prose is pure pleasure, and the humour of A Sportful Malice is sheer delight.

Arctic Summer by Damon Galgut (2014)
I had the honour of reviewing Galgut’s latest for the Cape Times. I read an advance proofs copy but have bought the strikingly pink hardcover edition for a young friend who is discovering and exploring his sexuality. A lot has changed in our society since the days of E.M. Foster, but despite our amazing constitution, there is still so much hatred and bigotry around that it makes one desperate. It is such a precious gift to find that other person who shares your dreams and longings. What sex or gender that person is shouldn’t concern anybody else but the people doing the searching and the finding.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner (2009)
While reading up on the touching and wise film The First Time, I accidently stumbled upon the trailer for The Maze Runner. It intrigued me and when I realised that it was based on a novel I decided to read the book before the movie came out later this year. It didn’t disappoint. Fast-paced, the novel itself is like a maze. You have no clue where you are going to end up turning the next corner. And the ending just makes you want to read more. I was relieved to discover it’s the first in a series. I’m a sucker for stories about friendship (one of those got me hooked on the writer whose book is next on my list here!) and I liked the portrayal of the dynamics between the characters in The Maze Runner. The thrilling action all around was a bonus.

Die DreiThe Three by Sarah Lotz (2014)
I’m supposed to review this novel so the proper review is pending. For now, I would just like to confess that I am a Stephen King virgin. I remember Isabella devouring King novels but I’ve never really felt that they were something for me. I have seen some of the films based on the novels, enjoyed Carrie and Misery very much, and my favourite TV series at the moment, Haven, is based on one of King’s short stories, “The Colorado Kid”, and yet I haven’t felt tempted to turn to the books. I did buy a King novel for my brother on his 30th birthday (the novel was published the same year as he was born). But still, no King for me. Until now that is. After reading Lotz’s The Three – brilliant, riveting – and seeing King’s endorsement on the back cover, I have decided to give the man a chance since he has shown some really good taste there. I bought The Shining yesterday. Incidentally, it was published in the month and year of my birth. And JohaN from Protea Bookshop informed me that the sequel is out. Fortunately, unlike other readers, I won’t have to wait 37 years for it!

Bare and BreakingBare & Breaking by Karin Schimke (2012)
Schimke’s collection also came back home with me from Franschhoek. I haven’t felt so excited about a volume of poetry since Tracey K. Smith’s Pulitzer-winning Life on Mars (2011). I read Smith’s collection a few weeks before the prize announcement (which made me jump up and down with joy) and was simply bowled over by the power and wisdom of her words. Schimke’s volume has similar qualities, but it exhibits an intimacy and eroticism that I haven’t encountered in contemporary poetry for a long time. She writes skin and desire, allowing the reader to get lost in both. In simple images she captures the miracles of a couple’s everyday life, how those little wonders remain hidden from others but never cease to amaze those who experience them. The violence of desire explodes on the page and splits you open. Bare & Breaking echoes those moments when you face the inevitable, when loss threatens your sanity, when you can’t help longing for all the wrong reasons. And when you get to the last poem in the volume you will be struck by the quiet after the storm. Poetry can be so satisfying!

And speaking about ‘quiet’, next on the list is:

Quiet by Susan Cain (2012)
The book made me properly understand something about myself that I have always known only intuitively. It probably is such a bestseller because it resonates with a lot of people. Life has become somehow simpler for me since reading Quiet. It helped me crystallise certain ideas on how to stay in tune with my inner qualities. In the words of Ruben, the protagonist of André’s The Rights of Desire, “I don’t like shouting.”

The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt (2014)
Hustvedt is one of only a handful of writers who have never disappointed me. A friend introduced me to her work and I have read every single title she has published. Every time I open one of them, I know I will be challenged, enriched and entertained. I bought a copy of The Blazing World for a friend even before I read my own, because I knew that one couldn’t go wrong with a novel by Hustvedt. I am waiting for the translations into German and Polish so that I can share the book with friends and family abroad. I reviewed The Blazing World for the Cape Times.

Road of ExcessThe Road of Excess by Ingrid Winterbach (2014)
Translated from Afrikaans, The Road of Excess was a wonderful companion read to The Blazing World. They are both set in the art world and deal with the insecurities of creativity and fame. Aaron Adendorff is a renowned painter recovering from cancer. After more than two decades of prosperous collaboration, it seems that the owner of the gallery where Aaron usually exhibits is threatening to drop him. Inexplicably though, he sends two new darlings of the art world Aaron’s way and asks him to assist them. All this time, Aaron is getting the weirdest messages from his brother, a recovering alcoholic, intent on confronting some uncomfortable truths about their family past. To make matters even more disturbing, Aaron’s home is invaded by the unforgettable Bubbles Bothma, a neighbour from hell, who is threatening to save Aaron from all his demons, if she doesn’t accidently get him killed first. A profound and funny read which lingers in one’s mind long after the last page is turned. I have now read all of Winterbach’s novels available in English and am hoping that my Afrikaans will be good enough one day to enjoy the ones which remain untranslated. Her work is extremely versatile, engaging, and her supple prose shines through even in translation.

Breyten Breytenbach, A Monologue in Two Voices by Sandra Saayman (2014)
My short review of this title is being processed for publication, but I can say here that this book simply as an object offers the reader a gratifying aesthetic experience. It is beautifully and carefully produced, includes a variety of reproductions of Breytenbach’s artworks, and encourages the reader/viewer to perceive them in context.

Bloody LiesBloody Lies: Citizens Reopen the Inge Lotz Murder Case by Thomas and Calvin Mollett (2014)
My review of this bold book should be published in the near future, so I won’t repeat myself here. I can just urge anybody interested in the history of the case to read Bloody Lies and to look at the Molletts’ website: Truth 4 Inge. If you are following the Oscar Pistorius trail, this book might also be for you. Bloody Lies is a highly informative, page-turning read.

I would like to invite other readers here to tell me which books have made such an impact on you in the first half of this year that you wanted to share them with others. At the same time, please let me know which of the titles I’ve mentioned above you would be interested in reading yourself. From your comments, I’ll draw one name at the end of July 2014 and send you the book you have chosen from my list of twelve titles. I will include my own Invisible Others in the parcel.

Happy reading & sharing everyone!

Blog hopping with Alex and Sally

Devilskein and DearloveAlex and EliasMy dear friend and colleague writer, Alex Smith, invited me and and another friend, S.A. Partridge, to take over the blog hopping baton from her. She asked me to answer the following questions and to nominate two other women bloggers to continue with the chain. Before I respond, the nominations:

Page PluckerSophia from Bournemouth, UK, of the wonderful book reviewing blog: Page Plucker. Even though Sophia does not seem to be active right now, I hope she will resume her reviewing soon. It was her review of Philida which first attracted my attention to her blog.

Girl-wallpaperHelen MoffettHelen Moffett, a woman of many talents: editor, writer, cricket expert, poet, activist, cat-mother, and dear friend. She is the Helen in Helena S. Paige, one of the authors of the Girl series (I am currently reading Girl Walks into a Bar and Girl Walks into a Wedding which also has something to do with ‘hopping’ – between scenes of various erotic encounters…). Helen has also published one of my favourite volumes of poetry, Strange Fruit. Ever since I met her, I have also known that one day I am going to hold a novel in my hand that has only Helen’s name on the cover. I am looking forward to that moment very much.

THE BLOG HOPPING Q&A:

What am I working on?
I’m in the process of completing my next novel. My working title is Ordinary. It is a boy-meets-girl story for a young adult audience. I live near Bishops and I love going for walks on the school’s campus. The idea for the novel came to me during one of these walks. At first, I did not want to engage with it because I was in the middle of another novel. But Ordinary refused to go away, hijacking my creativity and keeping me awake at night, so I decided to give it a go. The other novel is on the backburner, but I hope to have both finished by the end of this year.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?
In my work I skip between genres all the time, so I am going to concentrate only on Ordinary for this answer: I hope to be able to portray teenage sexuality in a way that many teenagers will be able to relate to. Something between the extremes of over-the-top promiscuity and total innocence. I’m frustrated by both ends of the spectrum when I read YA literature. I recently saw a film that made me think of what I am trying to achieve in my novel: The First Time with Britt Robertson and Dylan O’Brien. The film is like a teenage version of Before Sunrise. Great stuff! But there is a much darker dimension to my novel than to the film.

Britt Robertson and Dylan O'Brien in The First Time

Britt Robertson and Dylan O’Brien in The First Time


Why do I write what I do?
I cannot imagine a life without reading and writing. Sharing stories gives meaning to my existence.

How does my writing process work?
Stories come to me. Often the trigger is an image, a phrase, a mood. Sometimes it is everything at once and within seconds the whole story is fully fledged in my mind. But usually it takes a few days or even weeks to develop an idea. I cannot begin writing before I know roughly where I am heading. At the bottom of every story is something that I need to understand for myself, and the need or wish of sharing the journey to that understanding with others. Then it is all about finding the voice: who is telling the story and how. For Invisible Others I had to re-write the first 10 000 words of the novel because the first-person narrator I chose for it in the beginning wasn’t working. If necessary, I do research. It is an organic process. The writing takes me a long time, but I don’t mind. I’m extremely patient. I prefer to work in the afternoons, that is when I find myself to be most creative. It took me a long time to understand this, but I know that I can’t force anything when it comes to writing. Every story has its own rhythms. I have learned to respect that. All my creative work happens on the computer, but I do take notes on paper. My desk is drowning in them. I always share the first draft of anything I write with my husband first, then I pass it on to others for comments. The editor gets the third or fourth draft, and the process of revision starts all over. That is when the real writing begins for me.

* * *

For André J. Kershaw’s, my step-grandson’s, review of one of Sally’s novels, Dark Poppy’s Demise, click here.
For my review of Alex’s latest novel, Four Drunk Beauties, click here.

Homecoming launch of Invisible Others

Photo by Roma Szczurek

Photo by Roma Szczurek

A small but very enthusiastic crowd gathered earlier today at the Protea Bookshop in Rondebosch for my “homecoming launch” of Invisible Others. Thank you to everyone who made this one so special!

The first copies of Invisible Others at Protea Bookshop in Rondebosch, photo by Roma Szczurek

The first copies of Invisible Others at Protea Bookshop in Rondebosch, photo by Roma Szczurek

The shop is beginning to feel like an extension of our lounge. As Johan from the shop remarked, it is located almost in our backyard. I will never forget the first time I browsed there. I think it was Del who asked me whether I needed help. I was looking for a collection of stories by Etgar Keret. The bookshop did not have a copy. I bought another book and then forgot about the Keret. About two weeks later, I was done shopping at the centre and was putting some groceries into my car, parked in the vicinity of the shop, when Del recognised me and came out to say that they now had the Keret book I had been looking for the other day. Did I want to have a look at it?
Of course I did, and I was very impressed by such kindness and service. It is always a pleasure to go back to a bookshop where people care and know about books (which is not a given nowadays – I once had to spell Nadine Gordimer’s name at a bookshop…).

Emma after the launch, reading Siri Hustvedt's The Blazing World

Emma after the launch, reading Siri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World

Today at the launch, I had the honour of being interviewed by the wonderful author Emma van der Vliet. We spoke about the influence of film on Invisible Others, particularly the 1992 film Damage, staring Juliette Binoche and Jeremy Irons. Often when I write, individual scenes come to me in the form of film-like images and the medium is an inspiration for my work. There is one line in Damage which I found haunting: “Damaged people are dangerous; they know they can survive.” Konrad reflects on it in the novel. We also discussed how the novel began, how the main characters formed in my head, and how Cara refused to be written the way I’d first imagined her. The first images of Konrad I had in my mind were connected to a jersey a hitchhiker my Mom and I picked up in Poland many, many years ago wore. The young man told us he’d knitted the jersey himself. Konrad, also an avid hitchhiker in his youth, owns a jersey like that in the novel. Emma also asked about my writing process. When I was still working on my thesis about Nadine Gordimer’s post-apartheid writing, I found many references to her strict schedule of devoting the mornings to her stories. Inspired, I tried to do the same, only to discover that I could not write one decent sentence in the mornings. (Recently, a friend gave me a sign I love for my kitchen: “I don’t do mornings”.) I am an afternoon person. My best time for writing is after lunch and coffee, that is when I am at my most prolific and inventive.

By Renée le Roux

By Renée le Roux

It was great to see Renée le Roux at the launch whose amazing artwork has been an inspiration for Dagmar’s art in the novel. Before encountering Renée’s work, I couldn’t find a way of responding to abstract art, but the first time I stood in a room full of her paintings I understood and felt what abstract art was about. It was such a thrill and discovery. Her images spoke to me like no other. Her “Mommy’s Boys” are in my study and despite their sadness, make me smile every day.

Thank you to everyone else who was there!

Launch cakeThis is the launch cake which Emma and I enjoyed for our breakfast after the talk. The woman who baked it is going to hear from me soon. It is always good to know where to get a divine chocolate cake, definitely one of my all-time favourites.

Thank you for this delicious literary treat: launch, cake and all!

Book mark: Crossing Borders, Dissolving Boundaries edited by Hein Viljoen

Book mark_Crossing Borders_small copyThresholds, frontiers, or bridges can function as barriers or points of access, and they can represent opportunities or risks. They are indispensable in our way of perceiving and categorising the world, and make for a fascinating topic of creative endeavours as well as their interpretations. Focusing on diverse genres from different places and time periods, the twelve essays collected in this volume offer insightful glimpse into this area of research. The topics range from a reading of borders and abjection in the film version of Marlene van Niekerk’s novel Triomf (1994) to ideas of insanity and transgression in Thomas Harris’s thriller The Silence of the Lamb (1988). Read as a whole, the collection calls out for a bridging concept of borders, their crossing and dissolving in such farflug places as Lappland, the Karoo, or the human mind.

Book mark first published in the Cape Times, 21 March 2014, p. 10.

Crossing Borders, Dissolving Boundaries
Ed. Hein Viljoen
Rodopi, 2013