Book review: Hurt people

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Chwayita Ngamlana
Chwayita Ngamlana

If I Stay Right Here by Chwayita Ngamlana

BlackBird Books

158 pages

R155 at takealot.com

....

Chwayita Ngamlana’s daring first novel reveals the twists and turns of a passionate yet complicated romantic relationship.

A curious journalism student named Shay meets her convict lover Sip at a local prison while on an assignment and they enter into a knotty relationship.

In the first few pages, the writer dives right in and things get intense and complicated.

However, that doesn’t prepare you for the drama that unfolds. I was constantly surprised by the detail and honesty in the events described.

With its frank, intimate style, this short novel reveals a number of sensitive insights into emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

The writer takes us on a journey through the painful emotional landscapes of the two main characters, Shay and Sip.

Hurt people hurt people, as the saying goes. Sip may be abusive, but we will come to understand why and Ngamlana’s ability to make us feel for her character is powerful.

It’s the same with her crafting of Shay’s character, who seems to first not to realise she’s in an abusive relationship. Later, she almost craves the abuse.

Ngamlana offers the reader insight into the erotic life of women in a same-sex relationship, a subject usually hidden from view.

I’m not particularly compelled to read erotic literature, but the way these scenes are portrayed is explicit, yet not in a way that performs to a male gaze, which is refreshing.

This is an uncomfortable read where abuse follows intimacy before you’ve even turned the page, smudging lines of consent and making emotional complexities apparent.

The book’s structure, snippets in time, is compelling but means the reader can lose interest, except in the middle, where the plot races forward.

Yet each time I closed the book, Shay’s story would haunt me throughout the day as I wondered what would happen next.

It’s not an easy read, but it’s unputdownable.

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