Words that melt in your mind like chocolate


Words that melt in your mind like chocolate

KERNEELS BREYTENBACH inspires us to open books and explore worlds.


WHEN I was much younger, I was a theatre critic. Someone who attends opening nights then writes a review. It was a fulfilling job but also one with a whole caboodle of negative outcomes.

Someone was always angry at you. You could never relax and just enjoy the performance — you had to concentrate on a lot of little details, take notes, and in hindsight you had to make sure that nothing polluted your mind until you recorded your reaction on paper. It soured relations with your wife, and the temptation to drink a glass of champagne afterwards with the actors and director was something you could surrender to only in dire circumstances.

Stage fright

When I saw the protagonist in Alexis Soloski's Here in the Dark was a theatre critic, I grabbed it. 

It was clear to me that Soloski had a highly romanticised idea of what it entails to be a theatre reviewer. In fact, she has no clue about it, one often feels. But what the hell, she has a story and a half here and once Vivian Perry, the fabulous reviewer, starts looking for a vanished yet fairly handsome young man, you know this is a detective story in cultural attire, and then all is well.

But is it? Soloski has a far better idea of the life of the theatre critic than you thought, Neelsie. Once the detective story manifests itself, she is actually engaged in something completely different. And that is to use the critic's greatest fear as the main engine in the mighty machine of the novel.

The fear is this: you're going to see a play, one you haven't had much chance to read up on. You sit through the performance, don't understand any part of it, but so what? You're a reviewer and you have something to say. And two days later, you read other reviews, and realise you've publicly unmasked yourself as the dumbest of theatre critics. The one who knows nothing.

I enjoyed this book. What a plot! The poor, poor Vivian Perry. Fortunately, all the booze and pills made Vivian lose her sense of proportion. Dazzling climax, right out of the theatre.

Here in the Dark by Alexis Soloski was published by Bloomsbury and costs R475 at Exclusive Books.

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Novels about the Vietnam War are passé, I thought. The Women opens the door of that historic room again. This time, the fortunes of women who served in field hospitals are the starting point.

There's no glitter here like in Bette Midler's movie For the Boys. There's harsh reality and great emotional depth as Kristin Hannah plunges her main character, Frankie McGrath, into blood-spattered operating rooms and the sweaty closeness of desperate men in a living trauma. One inevitably becomes heavily involved in the great thrust of this story.

I thought Hannah became slightly desperate in the process of connecting all her smaller story threads towards the end, but it's also possible that my reaction was provoked by yearning that the novel could have been about a hundred pages longer. That's how well Hannah writes.

The Women by Kristin Hannah was published by Pan MacMillan and costs R375 at Exclusive Books.

What’s news?

If journalism is your field of interest, this book is compulsory reading. It records the history of the Village Voice, an “alternative" weekly news magazine founded in 1955 in Greenwich Village by Dan Wolf, Ed Fancher and Norman Mailer. It is the prototype of numerous publications that, outside the mainstream of news corporations' publications, sought to create a place where independent opinion formation was the raison d'être. Vrye Weekblad follows in that proud tradition.

Tricia Romano conducted a plethora of interviews with the survivors involved, telling the Village Voice's story using major historical or cultural moments. It was interesting to see in which journalistic setting Robert Christgau wrote his famous music reviews. One of the juiciest snippets is about Wayne Barrett, who began unmasking Donald Trump as a supreme crook in 1979 — a year after the Village Voice was bought by Rupert Murdoch. The Village Voice has been the counter culture's herald but today its daring is part of larger publications' modus operandus. The Village Voice itself is still published, but alas on a very small scale.

Freaks Came Out to Write by Tricia Romano was published by PublicAffairs and may be ordered from Exclusive Books.


A woman lies in bed with a high fever. Is she hallucinating? Possibly. That's for us to find out. Four chapters, each centred on one person who was a key figure in the life of the sick, bedridden woman.

It took me almost six months to finish reading this book. It's not “difficult"; it lies in her writing style. Compact, at once elegiac, melancholic, and as she is reminded at one stage by a mistress, with the wide expanse of the heavens between each word. You feast on it, putting her memories in your mouth like a piece of cold chocolate, waiting for it to melt deliciously into your mind.

For me, this novel was an experience equivalent to Anne Michaels' Held, but because it is Swedish in background and nature, much wordier. And every time my reading process was interrupted, I had to scroll back a little bit. Which was nice.

The Details by Ia Genberg was published by Headline and costs R419 at Exclusive Books.

♦ VWB ♦

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