Book review: The arty-mummy woman

2017-03-05 06:10

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Sandra Laurence

The Park by Gail Schimmel

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Pages: 288

Price: R185 from

The idea for this novel came to the author when her friend left her with her children in a park and took longer than expected to return. To explain more would be a spoiler, but the idea is a novel one, yet something that could have happened to any of us who used to meet to share the child-minding.

Gail Schimmel has an easy, direct style and her eye for detail is such that the physical descriptions of places are recognisable, although she doesn’t name them. She portrays social class and mannerisms accurately – we instantly recognise Rose, who is different from the other exhausted mummies in their jeans and T-shirts as she wears bright clothes and interesting necklaces. Rose was the protagonist’s first park friend, but not her most significant – that was Lilith.

Schimmel says her novel is about “female friendship” and we meet an array of women as the plot unfolds, not least the protagonist, Rebecca William and her best friend from school, Lerato, who is now a successful lawyer and the voice of scathing realism in the narrative. Predictably, Lerato is the child of struggle heroes sent back to be schooled in her homeland. She calls Rose “that arty-mummy woman”, and says: “You can’t trust those types.”

We also have Sophie, the health freak who only allows her children to eat organic carrots, while Rose opens bags of NikNaks with gay abandon; and Gugu, who works for the family and who dotes on Amy, Rebecca’s adopted black daughter.

This book has all the ingredients for some great South African chick lit. But this novel, which has moments of humour, has a serious tone – and decent research has been done to craft it.

But this is where the anomaly arises. We go from writing that is light and requires very little effort to hefty topics, including race. There is no faulting the theme, which presents a real dilemma; the style, which is easy to read and clear; or even the characterisation, predictable as most characters seem.

The accuracy of every procedure described is faultless. And yet there is something formulaic about The Park, in part perhaps because of some of the stereotypes and also the clever gimmicks employed, such as section headlines drawn from lines in Lilith’s notebook.

The Park will certainly strike a chord with some young mothers, but it is a pity it didn’t manage to escape some of the clichés current writers feel they need to employ to describe contemporary South African life.

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