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Colleen Higgs

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Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Looking for Trouble reviewed in Rapport

Always cool to get a review, especially one where you feel the reviewer read the book carefully and gets it.

Verhale spesifiek én transendentaal

Resensent: Christell Stander

Colleen Higgs se Looking for Trouble is een van die verrassendste boeke wat ek in ’n lang tyd gelees het. ’n Uiters gesofistikeerde balans tussen eenvoud en selfversekering straal uit elke verhaal én uit die samevoeging van die verhale.

Dit is Higgs se eerste volledige prosabundel, maar sy het al twee digbundels en kortprosa in literêre tydskrifte gepubliseer. Van die tien verhale in Looking for Trouble is sewe al elders opgeneem.

Haar bundel word opgedra aan almal wat al in Yeoville gewoon het, maar dis ’n versameling stories oor ’n tydperk in die Suid-Afrikaanse geskiedenis.

Dit is die tyd van PW Botha en sy vingerwysing; waarin die uitrol van die staat se militêre masjien tot sterker ondergrondse organisering gelei het. Dit was die tyd van die UDF, vrouegroepe, feministiese politiek, polities relevante navorsing en aktivisme.

  • To read the whole review in Afrikaans click here

Here is the translated into English version of the review (thanks to Karen Jennings):

Colleen Higgs’s Looking for Trouble is one the most surprising books that I have read in a long time. A greatly sophisticated balance of simplicity and confidence emanates from each short story, as well as out of the collection as a whole.

This is Higgs’s first complete prose collection, however she has published two poetry collections as well as short prose in literary journals. Of the ten short stories in Looking for Trouble, seven have been published elsewhere.

Her collection is dedicated to everyone who has lived in Yeoville, yet it is a collection about a specific time period in South Africa’s history.

It is the time of PW Botha and his finger-pointing; a time during which the rolling out of the state’s military machine led to stronger underground organisations. It was the time of the UDF, women’s organisations, feminist politics, politically relevant research and activism.

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Review of Lava Lamp Poems in latest Scrutiny 2

The December 2011 edition of Scrutiny 2, the UNISA literary journal, includes a review of Lava Lamp Poems by Deidre Byrne. As reviews of poetry are few and far between, it is thrilling to get a review, and even more thrilling to have one by a reviewer who ‘gets’ your work and takes the time and space to write about it as fully as Byrne has done.

Almost the first aspect of the volume to strike the reader is its profound South African-ness. For example, “the comfort of parquet” lists a series of iconic places in Johannesburg that the speaker misses, including “the Market Theatre, Jamesons, Kippies, Rumours, Scandalos / the Black Sun” (17), and each of them conjures, for the reader who is literate in Johannesburg landscape and culture, a particular, unique shade of feeling that is skilfully associated with a period in South African history. This is more than a mere list of places the speaker has visited; each is thoughtfully selected to form a pencil-stroke in a sketch of a period in history that is contrasted with “the too finely tuned / anxiety of all that was going on around / and within me — crushing, brutal, oppressive” (17). The accumulated negatives at the end of the line form a powerful contrast with the remembered ease of the speaker’s past precisely because of the poet’s care in choosing the spaces she mentions.

For the full review click here

Lava Lamp Poems

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8 reasons why I recommend Maya Fowler’s “Elephant in the Room”

The Elephant in the Room
1. As a parent of a girl, this novel makes me think I need to learn more about eating disorders and how they come about. Children can so easily become casualties of their parents’ inability to be present and aware.
2. Fowler takes us into the main character’s, Lily’s mind and body, her inner obsessions about food, eating and her body.
“My body screams for the icing, my mind says no, but its starting to quaver. My mouth waters as I beat the icing. It’s thick and glossy, made with real butter. The sweetness caresses my nostrils, and so does the rich bitterness of the cocoa; and then there’s the salty creaminess of the butter. Mind and body are fighting like mad. My body has transformed itself into a champion wrestler for the occasion. My mind is taking a beating.”
Fowler writes with vivid clarity about Lily’s inner torment, and she shows us the repetitive, circular patterns of Lily’s self destructive cocoon.
3. The style and language in this novel impressed me. So did the sense of place and the details that make Kalk Bay, Plumstead and the Karoo Farm come alive for me as a reader. The sound of the sea and wind, the stone walls of the Kalk Bay house and of the farm house in the Karoo. “Its windy and sand gets stuck in my teeth. I thought it would be a good idea to come out here to my lonely hill, but even the sheep are tucking their heads into their woollen armpits.”
4. We have a new, interesting voice in this young novelist. “The Elephant in the Room” is a strong debut novel and I look forward to reading more of her works.
5. The child’s perspective on family secrets, such as the death of Andre, Lily’s uncle and her grandfather and how their deaths came about.
6. The character of Gesiena, reminds me of characters in many South African farm novels, I loved her and was saddened by her life and her fate.
7. In spite of the tragedy/ies at the heart of the novel, Maya has a light touch, she writes with humour at times, deftly and seamlessly weaving in facts about anorexia, bulimia, butterflies and South African politics, so they are part of Lily’s life and engagement with her world and not the writer imposing her research or views on the reader.
8. As a parent, teacher or someone who knows young people you may be able to identify the early stages of anorexia or bulimia. Lily’s Gran and mother both ignore the signs, which seem to be quite obvious to this reader, in spite of how Lily goes to great lengths to hide her tracks and keep her awful secret.

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10 things I loved about Jassy Mackenzie’s My Brother’s Keeper

My Brother's Keeper1. Laki, Nick’s sidekick. His clothes (short sleeved shirt in a garish shade of green, embroidered with orange fish), his earnest demeanour, his loyalty, his yellow Renault…
2. The mystery surrounding Laki’s sexual orientation
3. The coincidences that tie up the plot like a well-laced boot (so to speak)
4. The opening chapter that grabbed me and kept me
5. Nick’s profession – paramedic, an unusual one for a crime fiction, but brilliantly chosen and woven through the book
6. Stronghold Security – and how it is at the heart of this very contemporary South African krimi
7. Joburg (I love the different Joburgs that writers are coming up with) – Jassy’s Joburg is a frightening, seedy, down at heel and glamourous, fast paced, and she zooms us all over Jozi from Newtown to Midrand, Yeoville to the Joburg Gen, suburban Northcliff to OR Tambo, Nandos in Germiston and the trip to Louis Trichardt in the dark at top speed.
8. Nick’s buzzy, manic energy that will drive him up to Louis Trichardt in the middle of the night on a hunch
9. Nick’s awful brother (didn’t love him, but he certainly kept up the stress levels as the story unfolded)
10. Cellphones on, off, broken, keep the plot moving in clever ways

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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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Review of Things Without a Name in the Cape Times

I have recently branched out into writing reviews, here is one which appeared in the Cape Times Book page on Friday 16th January 2009. Watch this space…

Things Without A Name, the third novel from Joanne Fedler (Jacana) is a compelling read. At the heart of the story is Faith, a vividly evoked, extremely troubled, quirky character who works as a legal counsellor in a women’s crisis centre. She loves animals passionately, and is a vegetarian who cuts herself in bad moments. As readers we aren’t sure we can trust Faith, she breaks most of the rules of her profession, and she doesn’t always come clean about why she does what she does. Through this loveable yet unreliable narrator, Fedler examines how caregivers come to terms with a daily dose of trauma, when dealing with the victims of domestic and other violence, and rape. We see through Faith the extreme personal cost of blurry boundaries for caregivers and the relentless drain it is on those who counsel and assist women who day after day come in, raped, abused, beaten, abandoned, molested.
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Dinaane reviewed by New South Wales Law Review

DinaaneWhatever next? But you have to take them where you get them, and even though the review is really a stick, especially to the anthology as a whole, there are a few carrots to nibble on.

A fragmented landscape
by Jackie Shapiro, Law Society of NSW

Dinaane is a collection of 11 South African short stories by female writers which its publisher, Telegram describes as “showcasing contemporary women writers from around the world”. It attempts to probe the cultural consciousness of a country racially fragmented by apartheid. It offers interesting glimpses into the kaleidoscope of South African experience; however, stylistically its prose lacks the punch to stand out in the crowd.
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