Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

"An Elegy for Easterly" by Petina Gappah (Faber, 2009)

I liked "My Cousin-sister Rambanai" and "Aunt Juliana's Indian" - they brought context and character together convincingly. "An Elegy for Easterly" and "The Annexe Shuffle" show other sides to her writing. After that, diminishing returns set in. Zimbabwe: hyper-inflation, war, lying politicians, Aids, the lure of foreign lands, self-sacrificing parents. These issues form a backdrop to most of the stories, and each story explains the terms. Perhaps it's my imagination, but the later stories (e.g. "Negociated Settlement") seem to be as much reportage as narrative. If one's read the papers and seen the documentaries already, the stories become rather less effective, especially as a collection. And "Our Man in Geneva Wins a Million Euros" (about an e-mail spam victim) and "The Cracked, Pink Lips of Rosie's Bridegroom" were non-stories for me.

The characters don't have the vividness of Naipaul's, and the odd sentence sticks out -

  • They will have been happy to put aside their quiet desperation to wear the shining joy of welcome, p.76
  • They continue to arrive, preparing their faces to meet the faces that they will meet, p.80

Her skills are those of a well trained, traditional writer. Here's the conclusion of "In the Heart of the Golden Triangle"

She turned to your children and said, 'Your mother was a really good discus thrower,' and she turned to you and said it was nice to see you Catherine, and you did not tell her that your name was not Catherine, she had confused you with someone else because you did not throw the discus at all.
'It was the javelin,' you say to yourself at the traffic lights. It is all you can do to stop yourself crying. 'It was the javelin.' High, high, flew the javelin, higher always higher. The cars behind you honk. Moments later, you turn into Glenara. You drive over three pot-holes, one after the other, but in the cushioned comfort of your four-by-four, you don't feel a thing
, p.110

The main character, psychologically wounded, retreats into comforting symbolism.

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