A corrosive tale of life in the waning years of the apartheid regime, when a thousand assumptions are shattered as white privilege declines.
Housewife, mother of three “silver darlings” and eminent cocooner, Janet isn’t entirely oblivious to the world outside, but when a crack appears in her swimming pool, ominously, on Jan. 1, 1976, she tries to contain the damage to her backyard and her interior life. That’s not so easy to do, given that life beyond the gates is clamoring to make itself heard. Even so, when, later, she takes her black gardener to the hardware store to get materials to patch the crack, she’s dimly surprised that he’s ordered to stay outside, as if the country beyond her garden wall is a foreign land. Even her husband, a policeman whose “fingers were the size of fists,” can’t turn back history. Yet Janet keeps trying to shelter herself and her family from a changing South Africa, even as the crack grows more noticeable—and, as it does, becomes ever more a part of her psyche, so that she can feel the gardener’s insistent brush “scrape her very insides like she was the pool and nightmare was about to spring loose.” As Radmann moves his story along, it’s increasingly clear that Janet’s determined myopia is a defense mechanism that helps her escape the bruising injustices of her society, injustices her husband is more than instrumental in delivering. Janet is a haunted, anxiety-ridden soul, and her worries lend Radmann’s book a claustrophobic feeling. Still, despite occasional bouts of staccato overwriting—“It was the need. The need nudged her. As needs must.”—Radmann’s story holds up well. And though the symbol of the cracked swimming pool as metaphor for the disintegration of both a nation and a marriage is perhaps too obvious, Radmann works it judiciously.
The novel is without the seething indignation of firsthand chroniclers such as Gordimer, Brink and Coetzee, but it succeeds in conveying a sense of how life under political evil works—or doesn’t.