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RECESSIONAL FOR GRACE (article first published : 2003-06-16)

A Recessional for Grace is the latest novel from internationally acclaimed award-winning author Marguerite Poland and, unlike her previous best-sellers Shades and Iron Love, it’s not based on any real characters.

Her doctorate in Zulu literature for the University of Natal (Pietermaritzburg) deals with the “Sanga-Nguni cattle of the Zulu people with special reference to colour-pattern terminology and naming practice”. This led to Iron Love and was further developed for Recessional for Grace.

While working on her doctorate, Marguerite came upon a paper in the University library about the linguistic bird calls in Xhosa. It hadn’t been taken out since 1947 – “a body of work waiting to be recognised” – and it opened her mind to “something quite different”.

Recessional for Grace is a love story with a difference and is written from the perspective of a young academic looking for a subject for a thesis when she discovers a long-forgotten paper in the dusty archives of a University library. Motivated by the author’s passion for his subject, she sets out to discover more about him and retraces the steps he has taken during his own research.

Her feelings for him are instinctively strong and unwavering. But the man is many years older than she is – and he’s dead. He has also had many romantic liaisons - and one partnership in particular affects her deeply.

Marguerite Poland does not write books that you can skim through at a fair pace like the average novel. Her writing requires reading - reading with focus and at a leisurely pace so that you can enjoy her consummate use of words and imagery, her sense of atmosphere and the gentle meanderings into the past.

She admits herself that she found her latest novel difficult to write and calls it a “love affair in metamorphosis”. Moving backwards and forwards from past to present, Recessional for Grace is not for those wanting a quick fix. It’s for readers who would like to revel in her sense of poetic narrative and identify with her love of the area in which the novel is set. The book should be read at least twice – once for its intrinsic value and the second time to appreciate Marguerite Poland’s skilful weaving of her tale once you know the full scenario.

Apart from the interest of the story itself, the novel provides a fascinating insight into the subject of Marguerite’s thesis – that of the charming and evocative names given to cattle in rural areas taken from the beasts’ markings. Recessional for Grace is due to be translated into French.

Having lived in Durban for 30 years, Marguerite Poland has now moved to Grahamstown where she teaches English at St Andrew’s College. Shades has been a matric setwork for some eight years and the Kwasuka Theatre Company regularly presents a theatre-in-education project of the work.

Recessional for Grace is pubished by Viking Penguin and retails at R150. – Caroline Smart




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