Something wicked

2012-11-07 00:00

REVIEW: Home Remedies

Diane Awerbuck


MOTHERHOOD, married life and the return to South Africa of the remains of Saartjie Baartman, are among the many and various topics tackled in Home Remedies by Diane Awerbuck, whose first novel, Gardening at Night, won the Commonwealth Best First Book Award for Africa and the Caribbean.

Home Remedies is narrated from the point of view of Joanna Renfield, who works at the Fish Hoek Valley Museum of Natural History (or rather did), and is told in something akin to a stream of consciousness as Renfield negotiates unemployment, marriage and child-raising while reflecting on her own past and just about anything else that comes into her head.

So far, so entertaining, but, as the blurb promises, there is something wicked this way coming and when it does — structurally far too late — it’s so shocking it completely unbalances the book, which veers suddenly from being quirkily humorous into South African gothic horror.

Home Remedies is more than competently written; much of Awerbuck’s writing is a delight and frequently insightful, but this reader continually wondered what the book was actually about.

Plenty of contemporary South African boxes get ticked — treatment of ANC women in exile, concerns over representations of the past among them — but simply ticking them off isn’t enough. Themes need to be pulled together at some point. Unfortunately, Awerbuck never gets to the point.


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