Unromantic Byron

2008-10-15 00:00

THIS country has a proud tradition of “literary” novels, but their readership will never be large, and to try to encourage reading, more generally accessible popular writing is vital. So on that level, Michael Rand’s Praise Routine Number 4 is to be welcomed.

However, it is not without problems — and it may well put off as many readers as it attracts. Somewhere along the line, a brutal editing process should have been put in place to knock some of the rough edges — and they are very rough — off this rake’s progress. And some of the writing seems to be deliberate gross-out stuff.

Byron Winterleaf is a 23-year-old dopehead whose only job is acting as a “translator” at a Xhosa theme restaurant in Cape Town. Dressed in skins, he has to follow the praise singer who welcomes the visitors — mostly tourists — and translate the praises they are met with. It’s not a job he likes nor is he much good at it. Then one day, after a Cape Town storm, a bone is washed out of the ground in his garden and a train of very odd events follows. The unpleasant Susan Ridge latches onto Byron’s bone and persuades him — not too hard as he is usually too stoned to know what’s going on — to let her turn his home into a museum of the forgotten. She’s a great believer in cashing in on white guilt, for her own benefit.

Byron’s life unravels fast, but it is not easy to care. He is a loser, completely self-absorbed, and only marginally less awful than Susan. His girlfriend Victoria is slightly more appealing, but by the end, you are left wishing for another downpour to wash them all away. There is a better novel in here somewhere; the basic idea is good, but ultimately it is as much of a mess as Byron’s life.

Margaret von Klemperer

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