Tag Archives: Thirty Second World

Entertaining and insightful: Pamela Power’s Ms Conception

Ms ConceptionEver wanted to kill your beloved kids? Shag your psychotherapist? Take revenge on the Floozy lusting after your husband? Write a nasty email to your Boss from Hell? You are not alone! Jo de Villiers, the delightful heroine of Pamela Power’s debut novel Ms Conception (Penguin, 2015), knows exactly how you feel. Soapie scriptwriter, wife, mother of two, daughter and friend, Jo, like so many women before her, is trying to juggle domestic and professional responsibilities without going insane in the process.

Pamela Power is not afraid of dark truths. Motherhood is not for sissies. It can ravage your body, play havoc with your mind, put strain on your relationships, and ruin your chances of getting ahead in your career: “Nobody ever warns you that, much as you love your children, there will be times when you hate them just as fervently. And that the guilt you feel for being such a useless, inadequate excuse for a mother will sometimes completely overwhelm you.” But Ms Conception with its brilliant title and wonderful cover is anything but a dark book. Power does not shy away from afterbirths, baby poos, or cracked nipples. Nor from tackling other serious topics such as peer pressure, HIV, and infidelity, but she does it all with such a mischievous sense of humour that one can’t help smiling on every page. In fact, my introduction to the book was via a friend who picked up my copy, started reading before me, and chuckled every few paragraphs. I felt exactly like that when it was my turn and devoured the book in two sittings. It ends with a ‘delicious’ bang and a recipe which will make you squirm!

Pamela Power made me think of the way difficult issues were handled in my family. We would sit around the dinner table and tease each other about the things that bothered us or tell some funny, seemingly unrelated, meandering stories which would illustrate our worries. It might not have been the ideal way of confronting conflict but it had its uses as it was an easy way of avoiding direct offence. And yet, despite having perfected this skill while growing up and using it in my early experiments in writing, I am hopeless at writing humour. I have endless admiration for writers who approach tough subjects with a light touch and make one laugh. Power is definitely one of them.

Thirty Second WorldMs Conception also reminded me strongly of another local novel, Emma van der Vliet’s Thirty Second World (Penguin, 2013), which paints a similarly humorous picture of a woman’s attempts to survive modern motherhood. Some of the most striking and strangely hilarious descriptions in both books involve breastfeeding and breast pumps and I am tempted to lump them into a new genre: ‘breast pump fiction’. There is something liberating and empowering about reading novels which reveal the often mundane everyday horrors of being a woman without batting an eyelid while cracking jokes at the same time.

Power dedicated Ms Conception to “childminders everywhere”, stating “You deserve a raise!” Women – and men who know what it’s like and do their share! – are the superheroes of our daily lives. And Pamela Power is definitely a writer to watch.

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!

Launch of Invisible Others at Protea Bookshop Rondebosch

Invisible others 26 April 2014.indd The following is an invitation to my “homecoming launch” at the Rondebosch branch of the Protea Bookshop:

“Dear Reader / Geagte Leser,
It is with great pleasure that Protea Bookshop in Rondebosch extend an invitation to what we would like to call the homecoming launch of Karina Szczurek’s Invisible Others, on Saturday morning, 26 April. Karina will be here to discuss her debut novel with Emma van der Vliet.

Dit is met groot genoegdoening dat Protea Boekwinkel in Rondebosch u uitnooi na wat ons graag beskou as die tuiskomsbekendstelling van Karina Szczurek se Invisible Others op Saterdagoggend, 26 April. Emma van der Vliet sal met Karina in gesprek wees oor haar debuutroman.”

Date: 26 April 2014
Time: 11am
Place: Protea Bookshop Rondebosch
Shop 29
Rondebosch on Main
51 – 81 Main Rd
Rondebosch CT, 7700
Tel.: 021 685 9296

Emma, photo by Robert van der Vliet

Emma, photo by Robert van der Vliet

Emma van der Vliet is the author of Past Imperfect and Thirty Second World. I had the pleasure of working with Emma on both, Touch: Stories of Contact and Encounters with André Brink. I love her work and look forward to our discussion next Saturday. Protea Bookshop is located almost around the corner from my home and it is one of my favourite places in Cape Town – excellent staff and a wonderful collection of books. It is indeed a true “homecoming”.