The Sunday Independent’s Books Page has expanded and moved to Page 18 in Dispatches. In a context where most reporting on literature in the mainstream press has steadily shrunk, it is worth celebrating the fact that The Sunday Independent has bucked this trend and restored the Books page to this section of the newspaper. The move will provide for more in-depth commentary on local and international fiction and non-fiction from some of the country’s finest minds.
Wednesday, 23 January 2013
By Konstantin Sofianos
In the frantic opening passages of Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh, his fifth novel, and the first to appear following the globally-publicised fatwa or clerical decree ordaining his death, the eponymous Moraes Zogoiby is pictured fleeing the Alhambra-like mountain-fortress that had become his prison, bearing with him a sheaf of manuscript-pages that are his testimony. His persecutors are possibly already at his heels, and may lurk everywhere. As he plunges into the Andalusian woods, he nails pages from his testament onto passing trees, defiantly. He can do no other, presumably.
To return to The Moor's Last Sigh is to be reminded of the imaginative force and exuberance of Rushdie's writing at its best. Individual scenes are preternaturally vivid, words and phrases unroll like circus tumblers in every direction, and are gathered together again in bulging, comic sentences, that combine to exert an irresistible narrative pull. The dialogue is improbable and priceless: "inform your goodwife to shutofy her tap. Some hot-water trouble is leaking from her face." As the novel unfolds, it extends to embrace both the trans-oceanic pepper trade of the early modern period and a dynastic saga of four generations, full-up with formidable women-figures and cowed but tragic men, and still finds space to accommodate a troupe of delinquent Lenin-imposters. At its core, however, lies an exaltation of the occult capacities of art, a theme evoked in the resplendent frescoes of the blazing-eyed and white-haired Aurora, matriarch and painter, Rushdie's finest character.
Rushdie's previous novel, The Satanic Verses, had been published in 1988, and initially met with a favourable reception that placed it on that year's Booker Prize short-list. The text presented a sprawling, flamboyant fiction that ruminated on ideas of identity, migrancy and flux in a newly globalised world, but its appropriations from received accounts of the life of Mohammed, and its allusion to apocryphal passages allegedly once included in the Qur'an, the satanic verses of the title, attracted the attention, then the outrage, of Muslim authorities.
Thursday, 17 January 2013
By Mary Corrigall
‘What a cheek,” observed Andre Brink coyly, at a recent dinner in Joburg, reflecting on assuming the voice of a woman in his latest novel Philida. Of course, for Brink writing under the guise of a woman, and a slave who suffered at the hands of his own ancestors, comes with the sort of political baggage that Ian McEwan, the British author, does not have to navigate. Yet in Sweet Tooth (Jonathan Cape, distributed by Random House Struik) McEwan is similarly weighed down by, or must justify, the female voice belonging to Serena Frome through which he narrates his spy novel.
In fact, in his idiosyncratic postmodernist manner, this concern is part of the plot, though it only becomes apparent at the novel’s close, when the true identity of the narrator is revealed, prompting you to plunge into the novel again, reading it through the secondary lens of the “actual” narrator.
Then it dawns on you that this is precisely what you have been doing all along; reading Miss Frome’s antics via an awareness that her words are McEwan’s, though at a certain point, when you become absorbed in her story, your cognisance of this filter tends to evaporate, only coming back into focus when his sometimes chauvinistic rendering of her irks.
In Sweet Tooth, McEwan is interested in the act of reading and the (unspoken) contract between the author and reader. This theme finds suitable expression through an amusing, if not ludicrous, double-identity spy plot, that sees the young, but ambitious Serena – she is dying to hop out of the typing pool and into the shadowy world of espionage – dispatched by MI5 to pose as a representative of a foundation that supports persecuted writers. It is part of a ploy to secure and nurture the talent of a young writer who would unwittingly be guided to promote the government’s policies.