Worthy of engagement

2011-09-21 00:00

THE literary value of this book has to some extent been overshadowed by the controversy surrounding Annelie Botes’s startling public declaration last year that she “didn’t like black people”, and the ­subsequent decision by the organisers of the Sello Duiker ­Memorial Prize to withdraw the award she was promised for the book.

But the book itself — a 26-year-long story of incest and sexual abuse told over a narrative period of four days — is certainly worthy of engagement.

I can’t say I enjoyed it, however. The tale is relentlessly shocking and distressing, and it dishes out finer details than I might have wished for around the physical effects of rape and sodomy on a body too young for sex (the book earns its age restriction in this respect), not to mention the emotional ravages.

As if to deal an even greater blow, the book’s narrative structure, which reproduces the cathartic but often un-chronological thought processes of its protagonist, results in some repetition of events — ­obviously intended — which forces the reader to re-engage with some of the traumatic incidents from a slightly different perspective.

Among the central truths which this book firmly establishes are: firstly, the fact that parental incest is brutal, ruinous, more pervasive than we may believe and highly underexposed; and, secondly, that ­Botes can indeed write.

No matter what you think of the book or her surprisingly facile comments about black South Africans, you have to give her credit for being able to string her words together on paper in a way that forces you to sit up and take note.

Sharon Dell

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