Diane Awerbuck reviews A Hibiscus Coast by Nick Mulgrew for the Sunday Times

Longing and the Promised Land

But A Hibiscus Coast is not all satire. Mulgrew is a sensitive man, and he invokes and then banishes the wishes, regrets, dreams and frustrations that plague us. How difficult it is to write powerfully and meaningfully about feelings; our personal revelations are mostly boring to others. But Mulgrew’s technique is persuasive, at once chattily vernacular and then so lyrical he could name new palettes for Plascon.

This self-interrupting search is linked to his favourite theme, and one which he explores to its fullest in A Hibiscus Coast: the human responsibility to know ourselves in order to know others, and our obligation to tell the truth. We must face our old selves or be consigned to further continental drift.

Sunday Times

Death and the After Parties by Joanne Hichens: an inter-review by Janet van Eeden

Joanne Hichens has been extraordinarily brave in excoriating her soul in a searing and honest memoir about her attempts to survive the unendurable. In Death and the after parties – one of the best titles I’ve heard in a while, by the way – Joanne doesn’t spare herself as she examines the brutal rites of passage which death inflicts on her life.

The first death she endures is the expected decline of her own mother, who is diagnosed with a terminal illness. While this is a difficult and heart-rending experience, she is able to process it fairly well, as the months leading up to her mother’s death are preparation for the inevitable. By the end of this process, Joanne believes she “can do death”.

Fate has other plans for her, however. The mind-numbing shock of her husband’s heart attack and almost instantaneous death destroys the very fabric of her known world. She finds herself reeling with denial, guilt, despair and total devastation as her reality is ripped asunder. Her husband, Robert, a powerful personality and energy who filled up the space in her life as well as his children’s, is gone in a matter of hours. The loss is so enormous that Joanne cannot regain her equilibrium. Unflinchingly, she describes her descent into the deep depression experienced only by the truly heartbroken …

Continue reading: An inter-review for LitNet by Janet van Eeden

Blog Tour: AN ISLAND by Karen Jennings

Karavan Press co-published An Island by Karen Jennings with the UK publisher, Holland House Books.

When the UK edition of An Island appeared last year in November, this stunning novel and its author went on a blog tour, organised by Emma Welton of Damppebbles Blog Tours. Here are some highlights:

In my novel, An Island, I have attempted to engage with the dark history that many African nations share, the ramifications of which are felt to this day. Because of the complexity of the historical influences, I chose to tell the story in as simple a way as possible, using as location a small fictional island off the coast of Africa, never revealing to which country that island belongs. I dislike the pervasive western notion that Africa is a single country, an idea that reduces the vibrant cultures, societies, languages and traditions to all being one and the same. The intent behind An Island was never to take part in that reductionism. Rather, I hoped that through focusing the action of the novel on two key characters and their interactions within the confines of this small space that it would allow significant relevant historical influences to be seen as irrevocable and undeniable aspects in the life of the protagonist, but without the risk of specific events, historical figures and political policies overshadowing his thoughts, emotions and behaviour. By those means I wished to examine what the influence of such a history might be on an individual – most specifically, what might drive a seemingly ordinary person to violence?

KAREN JENNINGS – DAMPPEBBLES BLOG TOURS

Karen has created an atmospheric tale, one that has humanity sewn through its core. The setting of an island backdrop breathes the chill of loneliness through the chapters and the way it feels personal and raw will have the reader understanding, possibly connecting with Samuel on levels we weren’t sure we would. An Island is a truly special read, that you’ll find creeps up on you chapter by chapter. You’ll get lost in the wave of Karen’s words, in Samuel’s loss, life and grief entranced by the violence our protagonist has experienced, as well as the emotional knitting that holds the novel’s core together.

THE READING CLOSET

… a well developed story, great setting and a fantastic main character.

DONNA’S BOOK BLOG

An important and astoundingly good novel … The idea for An Island came to Karen during an afternoon nap at a writers’ residency she was attending in Denmark in 2015. In her sleep, she saw an old man, fiercely defending his island against interlopers. At the time, there was a vast amount in the news about the Syrian Refugee Crisis, which extended to what became known as Europe’s Refugee Crisis. There was a great global outcry against xenophobic responses and calls for humanitarian aid for Syria’s refugees. At the same time, there was almost nothing about refugees from Africa – not about what drove them to flee their nations, or what their dreadful experiences were, nor about their deaths or their futures. Karen chose to explore the relationship between refugee and landowner, but within an African setting, where xenophobia is as rife as in Europe, though it often manifests itself in different ways despite largely being born of colonialism. By reducing the action of the narrative to two characters, Karen felt that a complex issue could be rendered in simple ways that allowed for a focus on individual experiences.

MY BOOKISH BLOGSPOT

STEFANIE: Is there a writer whose brain you would love to pick for advice? Who would that be and why?
KAREN: Last year I read the autobiography of Anthony Trollope, the nineteenth century writer. I found him fascinating because of his work ethic. He had very strict rules for himself, such as getting up early every morning and writing something like 2000 words before going about his day. He would write 250 words per 15 minutes and made sure to keep a strict log of his progress. Travelling was no excuse for idleness – no matter where he was in the world, he would write, whether it was on a boat or a train, in a carriage, in the jungle, in the desert. He was “merciless”, that’s how he described his attitude to writing. If, for example, he finished writing a book, but he still had ten minutes of allocated writing time or he hadn’t fulfilled his wordcount, he would just pick up a fresh page and start a new book. Parts of this sound so mad to me, while other parts of it make sense, to a certain extent.
Steinbeck, on the other hand, seems to have been quite the opposite. In his diaries that he kept while writing Grapes of Wrath, he records often taking days off to hang out with friends or to enjoy the nice weather. Then he’d frenziedly work to the point of exhaustion for a few days before lounging around again.
I would like to be able to sit with the two of them and have a conversation about writing practice. I imagine it would be quite fascinating, but likely a disaster. I don’t see the two of them getting on very well!

THE MAGIC OF WOR(L)DS

ELS: 1. Which character would you like to be in this book?

KAREN: I wouldn’t like to be any of them! They are all in desperate situations or live very bleak existences. I can’t say that I envy any of them.

B FOR BOOKREVIEW

The themes of this book are serious but covered sensitively. I have really enjoyed reading this one.

I have loved Sam as a main character, he is unique …

LITTLE MISS BOOK LOVER 87

The vivid descriptions of life on the island capture the rhythm of Samuel’s days; he tends his vegetable patch, feeds the chickens and prepares his stew and while there is comforting familiarity to his life, there is also an underlying loneliness which perhaps explains why he shelters a man he knows nothing about. His resentment and fear of the outsider is entirely understandable yet also devastatingly poignant. These are two men who don’t understand each other but both are outsiders, shaped then shunned by much of a violent society because of who they are or where they come from. An Island is a powerful exploration of humanity’s complex relationship with each other, meaning the universal need to connect with others is constantly threatened by suspicion and frequently misplaced anger. Karen Jennings’ book is an affecting read – this empathetic, evocative novel is a thought-provoking look at themes which affect us all, regardless of where we come from. 

HAIR PAST A FRECKLE

The SA edition of An Island is published by Karavan Press: An Island by Karen Jennings.

Joy Watson reviews Death and the After Parties by Joanne Hichens

Joanne Hichens’ Death and the After Parties is a story about what happens when we lose someone we love and we’re broken beyond repair.

Joanne Hichens

Two weeks into lockdown, my Dad took ill. A month later, he was dead. In the months that followed, I spiralled into a dark pit of nothingness. Consumed by loss, I journeyed into the underworld, my only solace being stories about death. This is how I came across Joanne Hichens’ Death and the After Parties – a story about what happens when the matrix shifts – when we lose someone we love and we’re broken beyond repair.

Hichens writes, ‘How do we keep in mind how fast time diminishes for us, that the years left become a smaller and smaller percentage of time compared to what we have already lived?’

This is at the heart of the book – the fact that time is a narrow bandwidth. We live. We love. We lose loved ones …

Continue reading: Daily Maverick

DIANE AWERBUCK reviews DEATH AND THE AFTER PARTIES by JOANNE HICHENS for the Sunday Times

THE KISS OF DEATH

The aptly titled Death and the After Parties is Joanne Hichens’s long-awaited memoir following four sudden horrifying deaths in her family. Blisteringly accurate, humorous and lyrical, the book follows her investigations into how we mourn, and how she nearly lost herself in that process. Hichens initially began a scholarly dissertation on grieving soon after her mother’s death, titled “Loss and the City”, which examined Cape Town’s tortured past and present – the losses of land and identity. Then her husband died, and her theory was proven in hard and personal practice.

The passing of seven years since his death has given Hichens a clarity of thought even in the ongoing chaos and fever of grief. The memoir is divided into five parts, a kind of guide to grieving.

Continue reading: Sunday Times

Mignonne Breier’s comments on Breaking Milk and the ‘physicality’ of Dawn Garisch’s writing

Breaking Milk cover

I wanted to express what I find unusual and fascinating about your writing – which this book seemed to exemplify – and I needed to think about it. I know you talk about ‘embodied’ writing. I am not sure exactly how you define that, but having read six of your books now I am going to try to articulate what I think is the ‘physicality’ of your writing.

I think your writing takes one to the edges of human experience and tells us what it is like to be there. Your knowledge of the human body makes it possible for you to describe what one can barely imagine – being the mother and grandmother of conjoined twins in this case – and tell us what it is like, in a physical as well as emotional way. (Other examples: the relationship between Phyllis and the young boy in Trespass, and the ‘accident’ in Accident). Your writing takes one to the edge of what many of us have been taught to regard as acceptable subjects to speak or write about. You write as elegantly about urinating and defecating, sex and orgasms as you do about mountains and music and ideas. Breaking Milking also seems to be particularly well-researched, yet one never gets a sense of the labour that must have been involved. You write as if you were a cheesemaker yourself!

I continue to be a great admirer of your writing.

Dr Mignonne Breier is an author and academic based in Cape Town.

(Personal note posted with permission of the author.)