Guilty pleasures, a dictionary of flavours, and seafood in cans


Guilty pleasures, a dictionary of flavours, and seafood in cans

KERNEELS BREYTENBACH samples the latest arrivals on the bookshelf and shares the best.

When was the last time you read a book that made you feel good about being human? That helped you to understand the peacemakers? When you find such a book, it is a guilty pleasure. When there is so much misery all around us, where did I acquire the skip in my step and the wide smile?

Death Doula

Mikki Brammer's The Collected Regrets of Clover is the book that aroused these feelings in me. I was unprepared for it. My reading patterns for pure leisure revolve around books in which there are detectives and murders. Brammer's novel also has corpses, but it is about a death doula, a young woman who assists lonely people as they die and listens to their last words before moving on.

Clover Brooks is a merciful soul. One might consider her a bit of a weirdo, since she has few friends and takes her job as a doula so seriously. She even creates journals in which she records people's dying words under the headings of regrets, counsel and confessions.

It doesn't sound particularly healthy for the soul but I was amazed at how quickly Brammer pulled me into the world of Clover Brook. Once you read the first deathbed confession, there's no way you're going to put it down.

Let me provide an example. Clover is holding the hand of a man who is mostly comatose. The man's wife is standing behind her and telling her sister she never had the chance to tell him he is not the father of their daughter. But the husband, emerging from his coma, hears everything. He opens his eyes and summons his lawyer to change his will and cut out his wife and her daughter. A day later, he dies, an embittered human being.

Then Clover falls in love and begins to take to heart the lessons she has learned as a doula. More I'm not going to reveal, except that you might find yourself shedding a tear or two. And experiencing the smile I promised above.

And your last grateful thought upon closing the book will be that Mikki Brammer is a top-class author. From now on, you will want to read everything she writes.

The Collected Regrets of Clover by Mikki Brammer was published by St Martin's Press and costs $19.59 at Amazon.

Joe Cool

American politics is a crazy context, but Walter Mosley surfs the prejudices of cancel culture with ease.

Could it be worth a detective's while to save a far-right white hothead convicted of selling state secrets to the Russians? Especially when the detective, like his mother, is “black as a moonless night on an ancient sea"?

The novel's title is taken from Huey P Long's refrain in his raucous theme song of white southern politics: “Ev'ry man a king, ev'ry man a king/ For you can be a millionaire/ If there's something belonging to others/ There's enough for all people to share".

Mosley twists these words between white and black, playing all our expectations and prejudices against each other, and saves his novel with the characters he creates.

His detective, Joe King Oliver, would not have fared badly in a Raymond Chandler novel. Maybe it's Mosley's gift for describing difficult situations as if he's Joe Cool going about his business, or maybe it's because he doesn't patronise his characters, even when they're plodding. This novel is truly exceptional — certainly not an ordinary detective story.

Every Man A King by Walter Mosley was published by Mulholland Publishers and cost $18.99 at Amazon.

Unstable writer

I have often wondered about the mental well-being of some authors. What kind of imagination (not to mention life experience) does one have to come up with something like The Silence of the Lambs? Or the killers who populate John Connelly's stories?

It's exactly these kinds of thoughts that Taylor Adams used to create the plot of The Last Word. A writer who is severely unstable completely loses the plot when an ex-teacher publishes a derogatory review of his book. He craves revenge so badly that one fears for the ex-teacher's life. But remember, she's a modern teacher. She knows how to fight back.

The Last Word by Taylor Adams was published by HarperCollins and costs R604 at Exclusive Books.

Dictionary of flavours

Niki Segnit's original Flavour Thesaurus was published in 2010. I will never forget how she warned against chocolate with overly high cacao content. When you get to 90%, she said, it tastes like dragging your tongue along the London-Edinburgh railway.

For this new collection, she shifts her focus to unusual greens. Things such as gooseberries, black and green beans, or chicory. She hands the enterprising, curious cook the key to an unknown treasure trove.

She describes marrow squash in an intricate embrace with miso, tomatoes, raisins, sorrel, lemon, limes, grenadilla, chickpeas, eggs, cheese, garlic, peppers, mint, oregano, cinnamon and spinach. You are left with loads of ideas to put pizzazz on the table and in your mouth.

The Flavour Thesaurus - More Flavours by Niki Segnit was published by Bloomsbury and costs $22.24 at Amazon.

Tin can alley

I record this one just to illustrate the constant and universal merry-go-round of cookbook ideas. In the late 1990s, Deona Tait's Cooking with Cans and Packets appeared in South Africa. It was reprinted three times between 1997 and 2006.

Here is a British woman with a fresh approach to the same idea, and  everything in the cans under discussion comes from the sea. Since a traumatic experience with a can of mussels years ago, I won't venture there. No matter how good this book is.

Tin to Table by Anna Hezel is published by Chronicle Books and costs R575 at Exclusive Books.

♦ VWB ♦

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