Rich novel of playfulness

2009-12-23 00:00


Small Moving Parts

Sally-Ann Murray

Kwela Books

SMALL Moving Parts is the aptly named title of a book about life. Not life as in grand narratives and uni- linear­ trajectories, but as in a big box containing a constellation of mainly hardships and hurts in response to which one can choose to roll over in defeat or simply staunch one’s wounds and carry on as best one can.

Set in Durban in the sixties, Durban academic Sally-Ann Murray’s first novel is a finely detailed coming-of- age tale about the bright, busy and constantly-thinking young Halley Murphy­, raised in a corporation flat in Durban’s working-class Umbilo.

Nora, Halley’s fastidious, resourceful and hard-working mother, holds her little family together. She is not faultless, but she’s admirable, striving for respectability at the same time as she ekes out a living for her daughters. By comparison (or even on their own), the men in the book are generally a pathetic lot — child abusers, absentee fathers, maintenance defaulters, philanderers, racists, or just plain selfish.

The story offers no ostensible climax; its strength lies in the telling. Murray, a published poet, writes with a poet’s eye for minutiae and ear for cadences. There is a richness here and a playfulness with words, which beg to be savoured through repeat readings. Murray’s descriptions of Durban are a delight for those seeking elegant and evocative representations of local landscapes and landmarks.

Apartheid is on the fringes of the book — where it probably was for white South Africans in the sixties. Its injustices creep through, however, towards the end of the novel — timed to coinicide with Halley’s growing adult consciousness and, perhaps, the growing realisation that there lies a world beyond the small moving parts of one’s own life.

This is a charming book, likely to offer a very rich feast to anyone who, like its protagonist Halley, gets a thrill from turning words and life upside down and inside out … to see what they’re made of.

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