A novel of letters makes lively reading

2010-07-07 00:00


Just Dessert, Dear

Marita van der Vyver


MARITA van der Vyver’s characters recur throughout her writing, growing up along with their creator and illustrating different aspects of life, love, comedy and tragedy.

In Just Dessert, Dear, Clara Brand is the central character, and her ­story is told through her interaction with her friends and family, including Griet Swart and the author herself.

However, the interaction is all from Clara’s perspective. This is an epistolatory novel, entirely written in the form of e-mails and letters, some sent and some unsent, from food journalist and cook Clara to her ex-husband, her sister, her friends, her author and her children.

The correspondence covers the period from 1997 when Clara ­divorces her film-critic husband ­Bernard after he has had an affair with Anais, her former close friend and colleague, to 2007 when she gets revenge — of a sort.

The book is often very funny, and also poignant. It deals with the ­shattering discovery that Bernard is unfaithful; the difficulties of bring- ­ing up three children as a single mother; deliciously evil thoughts of revenge and the slow making of a new life.

But there was a reason why the epistolatory form went out of favour for the novel a couple of hundred years ago. It leads to claustrophobia. Although Clara responds to her friends, there is inevitably a sameness about the single voice, even though it alters a little depending on the intended hearer.

And, while Clara’s obsession with Bernard and Anais is understand­able, there are moments when the reader has to feel that the time has come to tell her, in the immortal phrase of someone I know well, to “put on her big girl panties and suck it up”. Still, that apart, Just Dessert, Dear is a lively local read.

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