A
 
Web www.artsmart.co.za
A R T S M A R T
arts news from kwazulu-natal

literature
www.artsmart.co.za
enquiries@artsmart.co.za
 A current news
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
letters to the editor
home page
archives A
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
 

NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

AMA-BOEKE-BOEKE PRIZE (article first published : 2000-10-12)

Margaret von Klemperer has been a Boeke judge for Exclusive Books ever it started. Here is her report of this year’s publications.

This year, Ama Boeke-Boeke judges have been set a particularly difficult task. The books are so different that to make a choice between, say, Disgrace and Chocolat, you have to throw all objective criteria out of the window. They are so remote from each other in intention and execution that ultimately it depends on your mood.

If you are feeling serious, read Disgrace. You need to relax, try Chocolat. I thought long and hard about my winner, whether to pick Disgrace or An Equal Music. I have had both of them first at different times, but ultimately, going with the “unputdownability” we are told to look for, An Equal Music has my vote, by a whisker. Disgrace is not unputdownable, for reasons I give below.

Of the others, Chocolat is huge fun but rather insubstantial; The Poisonwood Bible, though powerful, runs out of steam in the second half; I Know This Much is True is too long and As It is in Heaven is too fey.

An Equal Music by Vikram Seth (Phoenix) - Michael Holme, the second violin in a London-based string quartet has two great passions in his life – music and Julia, his long-gone love. But then he sees her again and all the old fire is rekindled – for Michael. But Julia is married and a mother and is facing tragedy as increasing deafness threatens her own musical career. Seth’s creation of the tightly-knit world of musicians is wonderful and he writes so well that even those who lack his own well-documented passion for music cannot help being captivated. Music provides the horns of an excruciating dilemma for Michael. What is the greatest thing is his world – his passion for music or his love for Julia? Seth’s characters don’t always make the choices the conventions of fiction might lead readers to expect – which is why his writing is so enormously satisfying. These are real people. (1)

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee (Vintage) - The most powerful book on the list, and the most profound. But it is a chilling, even alienating tale which perhaps comes close to missing the boat in terms of “unputdownability”. In fact, Disgrace demands that you lay it aside to ponder the implications of what it means to be white in South Africa and, indeed, what it means to live in the world. Is Coetzee telling us that minimizing harm is the best achievement we can hope for? Middle-aged academic David Lurie finds himself out of a job after an affair with a student. He moves to the Eastern Cape where he lives on a remote farm with his daughter, and has to deal with violence and the actuality of power relationships – and, maybe, find some kind of way of making restitution and coming to terms with his life. A bleak view of the land we live in and a sobering look at ways of living our lives. (2)

Chocolat by Joanne Harris (Black Swan) - A lovely story, even if chocolate doesn’t really do it for you. Vianna Rocher and her little daughter find themselves in a small French town with the usual mixture of good people, bad people, hypocrites and the unhappy among the population. Vianne decides to open a chocolaterie and organise some fun for the locals with an Easter Chocolate Festival. But opposing her is Reynaud, the priest, and their two narrative voices run parallel through the novel. There’s no doubt whose side we’re on – Vianne is warm, sensual and liberating while Reynaud is cold, dessicating and repressive. But both have pasts which encompass tragedy, and it is fascinating to see how they unfold – and how the resolution is reached. This book is enormous fun – and does offer something to think about. A smoothly finished exterior, with a truffle in the middle. Delicious. (3)

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (Faber & Faber) - An ambitious novel about an American missionary family who set off for a remote village in the Congo in 1959. Led by father, unhinged in his determination to save souls and unable to brook any challenge to his authority, off they go to a country which is about to be caught up in a bloody war and where they are as remote from the locals as if they were aliens from outer space. The story, which spans almost half a century, is told through the voices of the mother Orleanna; 16 year old Rachel; twins Leah and the mute Adah and the youngest, Ruth May. I loved the first half – powerful, often amusing and moving. But then, as the daughters grew to adulthood, I began to feel that Kingsolver had too much plot on her hands to be able to give the various voices the space they needed to develop. A serious, intelligent book, but which ultimately falls short of its promise. (4)

I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb (Harper Collins) - An immensely readable story of identical twins, Dominick and Thomas Birdsey. They may look alike but Thomas is a paranoid schizophrenic and condemned to spend his adult life in institutions. Dominick, the narrator and hero of the story, is struggling to come to terms with being the stronger twin, with the loss of his child, the break-up of his marriage and his search for his father. And then Thomas mutilates himself in a public library and the gaze of the world comes in on Dominick. It is a powerful story, ranging back and forward over a period of 100 years, from the life of Sicilian immigrants and ancient murder to reaction to the Gulf War. And that is its weakness – it is just too much. Dominick’s story begins to slide out of focus as that of his grandfather intrudes. But it is still a profound exploration of the search for self-knowledge, the love of parent for child, child for parent and twin for twin. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it but might have enjoyed it even more at less than 900 pages. (5)

As it is in Heaven by Niall Williams (Picador) - Disappointing. Williams writes well, but his story of Stephen Griffin, a sad history teacher who has grown up under a cloud of despair following the death of his mother and sister in a car crash and the subsequent misery and unapproachableness of his father, doesn’t quite work. Stephen falls in love with Gabriella, a Venetian violinist who has made her home in Ireland after the failure of a relationship. Williams tries a little too hard, with a brand of magic realism that is disconcertingly fey. It is not enough to make strange things happen as a way of emphasising the power of emotion –the telling has to pack a real punch, as it might in the hands of a Rushdie or an Allende, to make it work. And Williams’ story, though charming enough and touching, particularly in dealing with the father/son relationship, lacks a certain passion. (6)




 A current news
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
letters to the editor
home page
archives A
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
a co-production by caroline smart services and .durbanet. site credits
copyright © subsists in this page. all rights reserved. [ edit ] copyright details  artsmart