Revenge, flying pigs, the future and an epic poem


Revenge, flying pigs, the future and an epic poem

KERNEELS BREYTENBACH, as always, discusses four diverse books that brought him (mostly) joy.


THIS will probably change, but right now I don't want to know anything about serial killers. Or young people (any generation) or souls over multiple decades (all generations) who suddenly one day discover their whole life is built on false assumptions and someone lied to them big time and now they're going to seek the truth. I'm tired of those kinds of books. I'm not looking for those stories right now.

Her own jol

Why? It's Mrs Plansky who has tiptoed into my headspace — a 71-year-old widow from Florida. Ostensibly your typical Yankette. Lives in a condo in Little Pine Lake, Florida with her father, in his wheelchair. She is the sparkling star of Spencer Quinn's novel Mrs Plansky's Revenge.

What befalls Mrs Plansky in this novel is the thing I'm most afraid of. To become the victim of cybercrime.

Do ask yourself, with Mrs Plansky, what you would do when your grandson calls you from jail in the middle of the night because the little rubbish was stopped for drink-driving again, and he begs you to transfer him money so he can pay bail and be released. Of course, the little so-and-so also knows she's not that sharp with computers, and she gives him her bank details so he can pick up the money on his phone himself.

So, that's her nightmare. Her grandson wasn't really her grandson. What does she do the next morning when she finds out someone has emptied all her accounts? She goes to retrieve the money — in Romania.

Don't worry, this is only the skeleton of the story. The rest are 80 forms of fun and surprises. Mrs Plansky moves through life as if she were one of the timid characters in a Neil Simon play. Everyone else is talking and talking but this auntie is busy on her own jol.

All right, Mrs Plansky's Revenge is light reading. But it's excellently written, the dialogue a masterclass from the James Salter school of speech. Nothing superfluous, so you read at breakneck speed, interrupted by laughter. It's reminiscent of the kind of satisfaction you gets from Paul Gallico's Flowers for Mrs Harris. (Spencer Quinn is the pseudonym of Peter Abrahams, known for his detective novel The Fan and the Echo Falls series for younger readers.)

I hope they don't ever make a movie of Mrs Plansky's Revenge. The story is far too rich for that.

Mrs Plansky's Revenge by Spencer Quinn was published by Bedford Square Publishers and costs R390 at Exclusive Books.

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Offbeat humour

You have to do two things to read and appreciate Jeremy Clarkson's writings about life on the farm. Number one: you have to forget that you think he's an intelligent person who can play all of theThree Stooges at once. Number two: you must forget all ideas you have about good behaviour and manners in an age of wokeness. Suddenly you see that the 3-in-1 Stooge has massive insights into modern life. Every observation he makes testifies to a deep respect for common sense. Yes, common sense. Was he born capable of success as a farmer? Possibly not. But he paints all sides of the issue, and because he's also a member of the subspecies of entertainers who thrive on offbeat humour, each of these essays contains a large dollop of fun. I'm sure about the profession he puts on his tax forms: author.

Diddly Squat: Pigs Might Fly by Jeremy Clarkson was published by Penguin and costs R380 at Exclusive Books.


No doubt about Naomi Alderman's ability to imagine the future, see the end metaphorically speaking, tell a story that points out the dangers of present human behaviour and meditatively suggest the possible remedy. I just wish she had a sense of humour and a flair for language that's more than one-dimensional. Will we give her the benefit of the doubt? Will we assume that she knows her readers no longer know what imagery, innuendo and subtle figures of speech are? Do we have any choice? Her plot revolves around the notion that the planet is in the hands of a few billionaires and that there aren't enough adult nappies to protect all the poor and discarded from the mess they're going to find themselves in. It's a worrying picture she draws but at least there's plenty of room for the reader to fill in the picture with his/her own crayons.

The Future by Naomi Alderman was published by HarperCollins and costs R390 at Exclusive Books.

Stripped to the bone

I don't know when I'm going to finish reading this epic poem. I just know I will. It's one of those tests you give yourself: how to use the words on the page to make your imagination fly. Axelsson's Swedish poem, translated into English by Saskia Vogel, deals with the exploits of two Sami families residing in the area to the north of the Arctic circle. Geographically, the three generations we get to know are scattered across parts of Norway, Sweden, Russia and Finland. For me, it's a laborious reading process. It's not easy to extract the larger story from the extreme simplicity of the text, but you can — it just takes time. It's impossible to tell how many of Axelsson's poetic accomplishments could be transferred to English. Vogel's translation (free verse, extremely stripped) has great poetic power and I am already enthralled.

Aednan by Linnea Axelsson was published by Pushkin Press and costs R537 at Exclusive Books.

♦ VWB ♦

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