Life as a dizzying ride

2010-07-28 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

Banquet at Brabazan

Patricia Schonstein

Jacana

PATRICIA Schonstein plays with her readers, making sure they are not quite at ease in her universe. And never more so than in the Addendum: Self Portraits at the end of this novel.

She talks of how artists have put themselves into their paintings, and then says that she is the estranged sister of one of the characters, the mysterious Peter Brightstone/Oberon Yoruba, and that she is the one who anonymously pays for his keep at the Salvation Army Home. She also admits that the line between truth and fiction in her personal ­narrative has lost definition. So it’s no wonder if the reader’s foothold on reality slips from time to time.

Real places and real characters, including Graham Weir of the a capella group Not the Midnight Mass, are interwoven with the fiction, which centres on the Brabazan Bar and Lounge in Cape Town’s Long Street. It is a meeting place for the characters, often at a turning point in their lives. All the strands Schonstein weaves eventually come to a point there.

At the novel’s heart is a love story: that of the plain, reclusive secretary Pearlie Theron and her bossThespian Winter. On the surface, they are a dull pair, but their secret life is a rich one, a fantasy of sensual delights. They are not particularly good people in any moral sense: he cheats on his wife; neither bother much about those around them or the needs of a wider society. Nonetheless, they engage our sympathy, as do many of the other people in the disturbing, violent and magical city Schonstein creates.

As in the real world, people in Schonstein’s fiction move between tragedy and joy. But her vision is life as theatre, at times playful and at times brutal, always compelling. It is a dizzying ride, but one that brings a remarkable intensity to the experience.

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