Joy Watson reviews ELTON BAATJIES by Lester Walbrugh

Lester Walbrugh’s ‘Elton Baatjies’ shows us the treacherous terrain of stepping into who we are

Elton Baatjies is a tour de force. It is a carefully crafted book and its temporal sense of time and location are brought to life beautifully.

Elton Baatjies is based on the story of Norman Simons who stalked and killed boys on the Cape Flats between 1986 and 1995. Dubbed “the station strangler”, Simons is thought to have been responsible for sodomising and strangling 22 boys. The evidence at the time could only link him to the death of one, 10-year-old Elroy van Rooyen. Simons was a schoolteacher, which made his arrest particularly shocking.   

Elton Baatjies is set in the Elgin Valley, about an hour’s drive from Cape Town. The story opens with Elton taking up a job as an English teacher at a local school. The community is in uproar because six boys have been raped, murdered and dumped down the side of the mountain …

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Cathy Park Kelly’s memoir, Boiling a Frog Slowly, shines a light on relational trauma, writes Joy Watson

David Whyte, the author of Consolations, reminds us that to be courageous is not necessarily to go anywhere or to do anything. It is to make conscious the things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of its consequences. To be courageous is to seat our feelings deeply in the body and in the world, to be open to the unknown that begs us on. Boiling a Frog Slowly is an effervescent narrative of what happens when we dare to open up to the unknown, to move on. 

Daily Maverick Life

BOOK EXCERPT: Chilling and intriguing, Joy Watson’s debut novel, The Other Me

Sedick got his way and Carnita moved into our flat at the beginning of February. From the minute she arrived on our doorstep with her suitcase, she was always trying to monopolise him. Needing his advice, wanting to talk to him. They would sit on the couch for hours ‘talking things through’. It felt as though I was the guest in our home. Sometimes they watched stupid TV shows until late at night. I would lie in bed, alone, the married woman whose husband was busy entertaining his sister. I remembered how he told me on our first date that Carnita was his number one priority and probably always would be. Not under my watch. There was no way on God’s earth that I was putting up with her. She couldn’t stay in the flat. But she had to be the one to make the decision to move out, with, of course, a little help from me. 

On the day Carnita moved in, I cooked a crayfish curry for dinner. Precious soul that she was, Carnita was allergic to shellfish. Knowing that she was a sucker for old-fashioned dining rituals, I wanted to set the dining table with a white tablecloth, but decided not to. Sedick had chosen a tempered glass dining table for the flat, mounted on two triangular stilts also made from glass. He was insistent that we not use tablecloths. Instead, I lit the candles mounted on the wall behind the table, each set in a metal circle. Popping a bottle of champagne, I poured three glasses and handed Carnita’s to her on a little tray. 

‘Is it non-alcoholic champagne?’ she said. 

‘God no. What would be the point?’ 

‘I don’t drink any alcohol.’

That’s the thing about Carnita. She always does exactly as she’s told. No mind of her own. As if God cared, one little glass of bubbly was not going to end the world. 

‘No worries,’ I said, ‘I’ll get you a glass of juice.’

After taking the rice off the stove, I called to Sedick and Carnita that they should take their places at the table. It was hard getting them to hear me; they were so busy laughing at some stupid story about an aunt who had gone to the movies and watched a film wearing her sunglasses, thinking they were 3D glasses.

When they eventually sat down at the table, I put the curry down, saying, ‘Here we go, I hope you’re going to like it. I know crayfish curry is your favourite, Carnita.’

Sedick looked aghast, ‘Oh no, Lolly! Carnita is allergic to shellfish. I told you. Why didn’t you make mutton curry?’

‘Really?’ I said. ‘I don’t remember that. I’m so sorry Carnita. I wanted to make something special for your first night with us. Now I’ve gone and ruined it.’

Carnita eyed the curry, the disappointment on her face evident. 

‘No, it’s totally okay. Please don’t worry about it, Lolly. Shellfish makes me break out in a rash. I can make myself a sandwich.’

I sat down, pulling my plate towards me, ‘Are you sure? There’s some cheese in the fridge.’ 

The smell of coriander and garlic was making me hungry. I spooned some curry onto my plate, added a roti and settled down to eat. The crayfish was soft in my mouth. Sedick was staring at me as if he had lost something in my face. I hummed along to the sound of Celine Dion playing in the background.

‘Don’t you think we should wait for our guest to finish making her sandwich?’ Sedick asked. 

Breaking off a piece of roti and dipping it into the curry sauce, I said, ‘She’s not a guest. She lives here now.’  

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The Other Me by Joy Watson

Read also Joy’s article about the forthcoming Open Book Festival: Countdown to the Open Book Festival – A learning powerhouse that adds colour to our cognitive deficits

And book your tickets for Joy’s events at the Open Book Festival: Karavan Press authors at the Open Book Festival 2022

‘Reading Romance: Melissa Volker’s twisty love stories with an environmental agenda’ by Joy Watson

Daily Maverick

… Volker’s tales are carefully spun, a weave of gossamer thread of the finest ilk. Her books take a while to write and she has an uncanny ability to transpose the reader into time and place. 

In A Fractured Land, we are able to visualise the arid landscape, the sweat of hot nights is tangible, and we can smell the lingering scent of wisteria on dry, balmy days. Volker is adept at breathing life into the South African landscape, making it jump off the page to embed itself in the reader’s mind. 

“Quite a lot of work goes into my books,” says Volker. “I have been working on my current novel for about three years. I’m quite fussy. I try hard to layer the characters, to make the dialogue work. I feel like each novel is taking longer – maybe I’ve become a harsher critic of my own work, or maybe I am learning the craft of writing more.” 

The time that Volker invests in her writing is evident in her other books, Shadow Flicker (released in 2019) and The Pool Guy, a novella published in 2021. Attention to detail sets her work aside from other books in the genre, where some writers have managed to push out many books in a short time. 

Volker’s writing stands out in its meticulous effort to cobble together a love story that is complex, exquisitely told and of a high calibre. 

What also sets Volker apart is that both A Fractured Land and Shadow Flicker skillfully incorporate an attempt to pluck at the strings of environmental consciousness. 

“I write about the environment because it’s an issue of concern to me. When writing the books, I thought about some of the social circles that I am in where these issues don’t even touch ground. I realised that one way of getting people to think about it is through fiction. 

“Sometimes people are just so fatigued about bad news and watching it on TV. So I wanted to package it in a way that was palatable… in a way that raises awareness.”  

Daily Maverick

Eckard Smuts reviews AN ISLAND by Karen Jennings for the Daily Maverick

Sometimes, she says, when we are afraid that our own narratives are at risk of being erased, we stop investigating history, and risk becoming stagnant in the process. That is why we have an obligation to keep on interrogating the past as fully as we are able to. If there is a lesson to be had in An Island (I hasten to add that, to the story’s credit, it doesn’t trade in easy morals), it is that this obligation never comes to an end. We cannot, like Samuel, retreat to our little enclaves of memory and build walls to keep out the world. Even those of us battling ghosts from the past — and maybe especially those of us battling ghosts from the past — need to keep our noses to the wind, to the strange new forms of relation blowing in from distant shores.

Daily Maverick

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 …

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