Things have been a little hectic here at the Couch Trip over the past week so apologies for my absence from the blogosphere. I have a day off today and so I will make a concerted effort to get round to reading a few blogs. But let me tell you what has been happening recently.
Firstly I can’t ignore the broader picture which has seen my least favourite local politician (ANC Youth League President Julius Malema) persisting in singing a controversial struggle song (Kill the Boer) which the ANC now claims is completely unrelated to the murder of rightwing leader Eugene Terre’Blanche (aka ET). ET’s murder appears to have been mainly the result of a wage dispute with his workers but the general sense I get from media reports is that this song provided extra fuel to the fire.
Closer to home, two topics have been dominating my attention this week. The first is more car troubles. Having shelled out a fairly large payment when my car broke down in Betty’s Bay two months ago, I thought I would perhaps be free of bad car karma for a while. Apparently not. On the way to spend the Easter weekend at Betty’s Bay on Friday, my car and I made it to Somerset West before the Cam belt came loose and brought my engine (and weekend plans) to an abrupt halt.
We came to a stop in front of a township tuckshop which looked more like a shebeen with a few locals gathered outside and I had a rather tense hour-long wait until the AA despatch vehicle arrived to tow me back to Cape Town. I still made it to Betty’s though, this time in my mom’s car, but my mood has been subdued ever since. Already the mechanic tells me that we’re looking at almost the same cost as last time, which confirms for me that this car is reaching the end of its natural life. As my neighbour said when he was pushing me down the driveway this morning, you reach a point where you’re throwing good money after bad.
The other major event this week is my 40th birthday, which is happening on Sunday. Part of me would like to curl up in bed with some tea and a good book but another more sociable part would like to have a party. So I’ve rallied my remaining friends and family and I will be having a combined housewarming / birthday bash this Saturday. Wish me luck. I’m sure it will be fun once I have a couple of glasses of champagne inside me.
My new ‘friend’ L will be helping me as well as my sister L. I’m very grateful for the help and am also enjoying the new friendship. It’s a bit too early to talk about a new relationship here but you can wish me well in that regard too if you like!
On the book front, L and I attended the launch of Damon Galgut’s latest novel entitled In a Strange Room, which L is also giving me for my birthday. It consists of three recollections, which he calls The Follower, The Lover and The Guardian. The stories are set in Lesotho, Greece, Switzerland (I think), various other parts of Africa and also India. Galgut is one of South Africa’s best writers and so I’m sure I will enjoy it very much. At the launch he was in discussion with Ben Williams, who is a cheerful (and slightly annoying) American who runs the Book SA website. Ben kept trying to force his own reading of the book onto Damon, who drily observed that “you seem to be very attached to that reading of it”. I’ll review this properly in due course.
I’m still busy with Anne Enright’s The Gathering. I was trying to work out why this won the 2007 Booker prize because as good as her writing is, I haven’t found this one gripping. I keep noticing how many pages I still have to read (60 at last count). Perhaps this says more about me and my distractibility than it does about the book. The blurb tells me that “The Gathering is a novel about love and disappointment, about thwarted lust and limitless desire, and how our fate is written in the body, not in the stars.”
Well yes. There is a lot of desire and a lot of disappointment. I can tell you that the novel is about Veronica, who is married with two kids and lives in Dublin where she also grew up as one of nine children in the 1960s. What brings her to reflect on her childhood and the events of a particular year (1968) is the suicide of her brother Liam. Since Liam’s death she has found herself shrinking away from contact with her husband Tom and she stays up at night reflecting on Liam, her childhood, her grandmother Ada and the oddly-named Lamb Nugent.
Colm Toibin describes The Gathering as “sharp and brilliant … tender and subtle … her vision of Ireland is brave and original”. AL Kennedy calls it dark and lyrical. I was thinking how Enright’s writing sometimes has a strangely elusive quality about it. Perhaps this relates to the elusiveness of memory. What we remember are often fragments and they don’t easily cohere into a logical, meaningful whole. I was also thinking that the emotions in this book never seem to get to a point. But then I do still have 60 pages to go and the family gathering of the title is happening now and so I am anticipating much more gathering of emotion as we canter through the final pages.
I’m also reading ‘Just Keep Breathing’ which is a remarkable collection of birth stories from South Africa. Quite appropriate as I celebrate my own birthday. My own birth story is not particularly remarkable. I was born at 11am on a Saturday morning in a hospital on the edge of Pinelands. Very considerate said my ma since I was in time for tea. She was in labour for about an hour, something she attributed to being fit from doing all her own housework and running around after three children under six years of age. I seem to remember her telling me that she slept for three days afterwards to recover. As for childhood, that’s a topic for another day.