A famous, progressive, aging South African writer salutes all the women he has loved in this latest from the famous, progressive, aging South African Brink (The Other Side of Silence, 2003, etc.).
It’s 2003, and 77-year-old Afrikaner novelist Chris Minaar is losing his two greatest loves: his mother (Mam), and a beautiful sculptor, Rachel Lombard. Mam, only occasionally lucid at 102, is about to die in her nursing-home; and Rachel has died already, from brain injuries, the result of a brutal highway murder. Their stories are interwoven through those of the other women Chris has known, but it’s Rachel’s that predominates. They had met by accident. Rachel was married, happily, to George, a globe-trotting photographer, and her relationship with Chris was platonic, but nonetheless intense. They talked incessantly and unabashedly about love, its connection to time, the nature of orgasms and so on. Chris also hit it off with George, and the three became best friends. This did not stop Chris from rhapsodizing about what Rachel exemplified: “The taste of women, which is beyond the taste of fruit and wine.” Before Rachel, there was Daphne, Bonnie, Aviva, Nicolette . . . it’s a long list, but Chris denies he’s playing a numbers game. For him, each woman is unique and irreplaceable, but that’s not all; Chris the anti-apartheid activist declares, “every turn . . . of history over the last century, I could mark with the memory of a woman.” This makes for contrivance, as when the assassination of Prime Minister Verwoerd spurs his marriage to Helena. It’s his only marriage, and it ends horribly. Arguing with her about his latest infidelity, he causes a car accident, killing Helena and their young son. Chris is curiously reticent about the tragedy, no doubt because it shows him in a bad light; elsewhere, he presents himself as a sensitive lover, never insistent, always willing to let go; there’s also the implication that he must have been one helluva stud.
Cloying and pretentious.