Love, mourning, Lagerfeld, old Hollywood and the Eagles


Love, mourning, Lagerfeld, old Hollywood and the Eagles

KERNEELS BREYTENBACH, a man who reads love stories, casts his net wide: there is something for everyone.


IT'S time for a good love story again. One can't always be looking for serial killers and corrupted spies. It's an escape for me — but also a way to learn how people can inflict damage in ways other than with knives or firearms. And the delight that other people's amorous pursuit can bring. A kind of sensual eroticism, with the possibility of delusions. However, it would be a colossal mistake to approach German writer Jenny Erpenbeck's Kairos with such a mindset.

First flush

Kairos is essentially a love story. Brilliantly written, it could never be cast in the mould of Mills & Boon. A relationship between a 50-year-old man and a woman of 19 falls outside the decent confines of mass-market morals. But it is precisely the dynamo that drives this novel.

I've often wondered if men and women experience certain types of books differently. Jenny Erpenbeck is a writer who deals, in a most refined way, with the frolicking of the human soul  in the first flush of romance. She renders the female and male perspectives on this relationship accessible. But it's when the first flush transitions into hesitation and a slower pace that Erpenbeck reveals her mastery. I can't remember the last time I was moved in this way by narrative, or reacted so emotionally to something.

Perhaps I should qualify this comment. The love between Hans and Katharina develops on several levels. Hans is a consumer, an opportunist who unexpectedly has to mend his ways because Katharina demands it. But like a bad bridge hand, it is inevitable that his true nature will show itself; Katharina's perspective is the one that spoke to my heart, so there is a great deal of dismay at the emotional and physical brutality she so willingly endures.

Obviously, there is a political dimension to this narrative. It is set in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Katharina's visits to the West offer her a taste of what the future holds. Kairos is the Greek god of possibility/opportunity, and the novel is about the way people seize opportunities. 

Michael Hoffman translated the novel into English, and I am grateful for the elegance of his work. So far, for me this is the novel of the year.

Kairos by Jenny Erpenbeck was published by New Directions and costs $22.50 at Amazon

Mourning & folklore

When you lose loved ones, you enter a strange phase of your life. You wish you could get a tutorial on how to grieve, but the best books on the subject, CS Lewis's A Grief Observed and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's On Grief & Grieving, aren't entirely user-friendly. Hollie Starling's The Bleeding Tree is an attempt to come to terms with her father's suicide. She turned to her love of folklore, her love of nature, and the rituals used in bygone eras to facilitate the grieving process. I suspect this will resonate with a lot of people but it is not an approach that works for me, so back to Lewis.

The Bleeding Tree by Hollie Starling was published by Ebury and costs R537 at Exclusive Books.


It took me over two months to wrestle through this book. Fashion designer Karel Lagerfeld has never been important to me (and it shows!) and the only thing I envied him was his friendship with the wonderful Isabelle Huppert. But in a funny way, Karl (as everyone called him, mos) grows on you. I read a bit more every few nights, as if I knew the book was finally going to bring a revelation, which is one of the factors that justifies reading. It comes in the fourth from final chapter, where it is revealed that Karl never liked dogs but that a cat named Choupette conquered his heart and made him a different human being. He appointed Françoise Caçote as Choupette's servant and showered the cat with all sorts of Louis Vuitton handbags and stuff. And he took her everywhere with him, with a diamond-studded collar around her neck. Do you understand?

Paradise Now by William Middleton was published by Ebury and costs R610 at Exclusive Books. 

Hollywood, 1927

If you were deeply impressed by Damien Chazelle's film Babylon and couldn't get enough of the incredible decadence of the final years of the silent film era, then The Devil's Playground will be good news. It's largely set in Hollywood in 1927, and the title refers to a silent film whose protagonist was murdered. For the sake of the film industry and the good names of those involved, however, it's dolled up to look like suicide. All is merry and crazy, almost too much. I took particular pleasure in the character Mary Rourke, who does exactly the same kind of work in old Hollywood as Harvey Keitel in the film Pulp Fiction.

The Devil’s Playground by Craig Russell was published by Little, Brown Book Group and costs R424 at Exclusive Books.

Electric cool-aid

Mick Wall writes books about the great artists of the rock era: Metallica, Guns 'n Roses' Axl Rose, Prince, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Foo Fighters, Pink Floyd, Phil Spector. Those books were all the lead-up to this, his magnum opus about the Eagles, a band he hates as much as he loves their music. One reads this book with wonder and a growing sense of horror. And with exuberant pleasure. Wall perfectly mimicks Tom Wolfe's electric kool-aid style, and the reader finds it all too groovy. Can one forgive Don Henley and Glenn Frey for their excesses and disgusting behaviour? One can never assume that artists' private lives will be beyond reproach. In fact, with rock music it's almost a requirement that the people misbehave. What Wall does with this book is to show that even such a premise is not nearly enough to accommodate a hooligan like the drummer with the perma-perm, Don Henley. All the drugs, you know.

Eagles: Dark Desert Highway by Mick Wall was published by Orion Publishing and costs R450 at Exclusive Books.

♦ VWB ♦

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