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Colleen Higgs

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

10 things I deeply admired about Jelly Dog Days by Erica Emdon

Jelly Dog Days1. I didn’t completely love the book, because it is a painful read, but I admire the book deeply and feel it is an important book. Painful to see Lizette, Terry’s Mom drinking and drinking and smoking and being irresponsible and oblivious to her children. (It does have resonances with Whiplash too.)

2. Working class Joburg, the West Rand – authentically imagined and described through the eyes of Theresa or Terry, the main character. And Margate.

3. The characterisation of Piet, Terry’s stepfather, my response to him was complex. I can understand that Terry’s was too. For example, how when she is a small child he plays roughly and physically with her and chases her and how this changes into a sexualised, abusive and highly manipulative treatment of Terry.

4. Erica Emdon’s unflinching writing of the narcissism of Lizette and how this plays out in Terry’s life, rupturing her life, leaving her unsafe in the world and undermining her chances of surviving and making it in any kind of way even though she is a bright girl.

My mother never enjoys baking and preparing for kids’ parties. On this occasion I think she had a massive hangover, which is why she went to buy the stuff just before the kids arrived. And even when they arrived, the cakes were still wrapped in their packets. No, my mother isn’t the type to scoop oranges out of their skins. She would lose interest after digging out the inside of one.

(page 195)

5. The references to Charles Bronson, Oros, apricot jam, the Carlton Centre, Coronationville, vetkoek.

6. Terry. She is a survivor. Tough, resourceful, responsible, feeling girl. An oldest child.

7. I was quickly drawn into the world of the book, and it has stayed with me. I can picture a girl of 13 walking around Joburg at night in the mid 70s as she runs away from home, which has become intolerable. I feel I know Lizette and Piet and Ouma and Oupa and Ulrike. And most of all Terry.

8. The melodrama that swirls around Lizette and Piet, seems totally believable to me. Drinking, shouting, arguing, swearing, scenes, and more. The writer describes each outburst and grounds it in what is going on. Terry changes as she grows up, in a particular way, largely to do with how she has been treated and what she has experienced.

9. I like the way Emdon weaves in the story of Sophie, the domestic worker and her son Rex, and the Soweto school boycotts and uprisings, is deftly written and also leaves Terry bereft of the one adult who has been stable and sane in her life.

10. The guardian angels that are there, even in the bleakest circumstances and whose interventions are at times quite limited, nevertheless they do make Terry’s life more bearable: the Sunday School teacher, Sophie, tannie Lettie – the neighbour in Claremont, her friend – Tormud, the farm workers who save her life, the teacher who makes it possible for Terry to go to Standerton High School.

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Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://mayafowler.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Maya</a>
    Maya
    October 2nd, 2009 @21:59 #
     
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    This is definitely one of the best books I've read this year. The voice is amazing, and while there is a lot that is intensely shocking, there's a subtlety to this work, which is always something I admire. I, as a reader, don't want to be whacked over the head with an anvil. And many writers who attempt shocking or taboo topics approach their subject in just this way, while a more subtle approach, to my mind, is so much more effective. I'm just over half way, but feel confident recommending this book.

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