Jewish Jo’burg through a dirty keyhole

defencedeceive

EVERY ONCE IN a while a novel might cross your path that snatches at every spare minute you have and occupies your every waking hour – until you’ve found out whodunit, that is, or how the narrative comes to closure. When you read Marilyn Cohen De Villiers’s Deceive and Defend, the third novel in her trilogy, mooted the Silverman saga, about conflict and sensationalism in an opulent Jewish Johannesburg family, be aware that all your other deadlines or commitments may fall into abeyance.

A story that begs comparison with the dexterity with which Agatha Christie plies her characters and inserts hairpin bends in how things transpire, this work (and the two that precede it) have something of the urgency and energy in the Lynda la Plante stories that were magicked into television mini-series in the 1990s under the Trial and Retribution titles, featuring David Hayman.

Even if you haven’t read Cohen De Villiers’s two other books, A Beautiful Family (2014) and When Time Fails (2015), you will be sucked into the complex relationship of the members of the Silverman family, addressing the threads cast out by the first two books. It’s a saga that touches on everything from sexual abuse to incest, child molestation to murder and while the authorial voices paints Jewish Johannesburg with devastating hues, it’s clearly fiction.

But it’s fiction that gives the notion of self-publishing a very important compliment: this writing, which is crisp and well defined, informed, racy and alive with contextual relevance, is stronger than a lot of contemporary published fiction. Similar to Peter Harris’s brilliant debut novel, Bare Ground, published earlier this year, the book is written with a firm sense of narrative, a playful and deeply intelligent understanding of language and a clarity that embraces all levels of contemporary South Africa, in a way that makes this trilogy arguably something of a great Jewish South African novel, that brings together many strands.

If you know Jewish Johannesburg, you may respond to this story more profoundly and with recognition. But, if you don’t, this book is not moored in a sense of insularity or parochialism – rather, against the broad narrative of the collapse of the journalism industry with the character Tracy Jacobs in the complicated quandary of wanting a story, a reputation and love but having a news editor with clear biases to contend with, the story is bigger than just the smarmy bits.

With research-based eyes on the field and current status of social work and that of prison in South Africa, Deceive and Defend is tightly woven, easily the strongest of three already strong texts, it’s an astonishing read which will keep you guessing incorrectly until the very last pages.

Having said all of that, the type setting of the book is not always satisfying on the eye – while the text is tightly packed, the attention to ‘widows and orphans’ in terms of hanging text is taken into consideration leaving the layout of the text upsetting to the eye. But as the narrative begins to flow, you forgive everything, as you hope your domestic responsibilities will forgive you for your absence, while you’re reading it.

Deceive and Defend by Marilyn Cohen de Villiers is published by Mapolaje Publishers (2018).

Because sometimes life begins at 70

findingyourfeet
LAST one in’s a rotten egg! Sisters Bif (Celia Imrie) and Sandra (Imelda Staunton), noseplugs and all, brave a swim in winter. Photograph courtesy The Culture Concept Circle.

WHAT DO YOU do after 40 years of marriage to a man with a social standing, when you find he’s been canoodling with someone else for long enough to make it serious? If you’re Lady Sandra Abbott (Imelda Staunton), you furiously and tearfully tootle off to your big sister, Bif (Celia Imrie), with matching luggage in hand, even if you haven’t seen her for ten years and at best your relationship with her is rickety and judging. This is the starting point for Finding Your Feet, a British romantic comedy about love, loss, sisters and forever.

The grand narrative of the tale, which uses social dancing as its nub, is as clichéd and syrupy as you can possibly imagine, but it’s the manner in which the work is populated, written and performed that will make you forgive every well trodden piece of predictability as you mop your snot and tears with abandon, holding back on the huge sobs for fear of embarrassing yourself amongst strangers.

Staunton and Imrie absolutely sparkle in their embrace of these two sisters, in terms of the social values and wild idiosyncrasies each represents and their sibling intersections: it’s not an immediately lovey-dovey forgiving relationship. Rather, it’s quite a tough one, which touches on messy interiors and deep secrets, rendering women probably in their 70s still subject to the little sweet and sometimes spiteful things they did as small girls. And, as is the wont of British comedy at its very best, the texture of the work is developed with such a fine sense of dark humour, you will laugh until the tears flow copiously.

You’ll also cry with the same sense of abandon. And just when you think you can’t cry any more, the film turns a corner and you begin to weep with joy. The plausibility offered by this splinteringly fine cast which also includes Joanna Lumley as Jackie, Timothy Spall as Charlie and David Hayman as Ted, the dance mates. It’s about growing older with unapologetic flamboyance and living for the moment as it comes.

It’s a tonic of a film, in the same kind of genre as Film Stars don’t die in Liverpool and to an extent, The Leisure Seeker, which will haunt you if you’ve ever had a sibling, or let a dream go, or felt trapped in a context which in your deepest heart you know isn’t yours. Or even if you will never see 50 again. But more than that, it’s also an extremely moving foray into the reality of dementia and how it impacts on one’s loved ones in ways that are seldom discussed on the silver screen.

Don’t see this film without lots of tissues on hand, and hold off on that mascara. This is a real weepy, but one that’s as good as it gets.

  • Finding Your Feet is directed by Richard Loncraine and features a cast headed by Anna Afferri, Alister Albert, Christina Avery, Alex Blake, Kaye Brown, Clare Cashion, Peter Challis,  Paul Chan, Rochelle De-Terville, Sonny Fowler, Samuel Gaspard, Fred Folkes, Avril Gaynor, David Hayman, Dollie Henry, Richard Hope, Celia Imrie, Josie Lawrence, Heather A Lewis, Teresa Lucas, Joanna Lumley, Christopher Molloy, Jill Nalder, Phoebe Nicholls, Niall O’Loughlin, Frankie Oatway, Kenn Oldfield, Marianne Oldham, Indra Ové, Basil Patton, Jacqueline Ramnarine, Steve Saunders, John Sessions, Raven Shanelle, Timothy Spall, Imelda Staunton, Karol Steele, Fran Targ, Sian Thomas, Sarah-Jane Tindle, Philip Tsaras, Victoria Wicks and Patricia Winker. It is written by Meg Leonard and Nick Moorcroft. Produced by Andrew Berg, Meg Leonard, Nick Moorcroft, John Sachs, James Spring and Charlotte Walls, it features creative input by Michael J McEvoy (music), John Pardue (cinematography), Johnny Daukes (editing), Irene Lamb (casting), Jon Bunker (production design) and Jill Taylor (costumes). Release date: May 24 2018.

The man who thought he had bigger fish to fry

Akwarius
SOMETHING to chill you to the very fins. Photograph courtesy www.rsg.co.za

THERE’S A SERIAL killer loose on suburban the streets of Johannesburg. He has an unabashed penchant for young women with red hair and is impartial whether the colour is natural or from a bottle. He’s nifty in his ways, meticulous in his habits, has a clear sense of detail and he’s cruel in a clinical kind of way. On one level, profiling this guy is just part of another day’s work for police captain Sakkie Joubert (Anton Dekker) and his young side-kick Cassey Davids (Su-An Müller-Marais). On another, this Afrikaans-language radio play is a gripping yarn of pathologies and horror with a fish hook or two in its tail. It debuts this Thursday evening at 20:00 on Radio Sonder Grense (100-104FM).

This hour-long play is everything you demand from the detective thriller genre, and then some. Joubert is an older cop, who’s seen everything; he’s been around the proverbial block several times, and he’s completely focused on his work and on doing it as well as possible. But in doing so, has he overlooked something absolutely crucial? Dekker gives the character, in your mind’s eye, the gravitas of a Detective Inspective Michael Walker – played by British actor David Hayman – in the Channel 4 series Trial and Retribution based on Lynda la Plante novels in the 1990s. He’s something of South Africa’s real life (late) supercop Piet Byleveld. Instinctively, you warm to him. You trust him. You know that he will get the baddie.

You don’t know how it will transpire. Tightly detailed, yet concise, the play presents characters who are convincingly developed in their local context. You listen with horror, instinctively trying to pinpoint the killer. When you realise who it might be, you cringe in horror. Not that person, you whisper, quailing, and unable to turn away from your radio, for even one second. While the final line of the work tends to veer towards a little too much sugar, it is, perhaps what you need, perched as you are on the edge of your seat, pulse racing.

This is a beautifully written piece of work, succinct, scary and direct. It’s about the unnerving reality of what Tinder can bring into your life and it’s about the pathologies you plant in your loved ones while you might be away from them, chasing your own dreams.

  • Akwarius is an Afrikaans-language radio play written by Marion Erskine and directed by Bettie Kemp. Featuring technical input by Neria Mokoena and Patrick Monana. It is performed by Anton Dekker, Anrich Herbst, Duncan Johnson, Mari Molefe-Van Heerden, Su-Ann Müller-Marais and Magda van Biljon. Kobus Burger is executive producer: drama for RSG.
  • It will be transmitted on RSG (100-104 FM or on DStv channel 913 or listen live on http://web.sabc.co.za/digital/player/1.0/rsg/index.html#/listenLiveTab ) on December 7 at 8pm and on December 11 at 1am, in the radio station’s Deurnag It is also available on podcast through the radio station’s website: www.rsg.co.za