A naïve country girl learns the ways of the world in O’Connor’s debut work of fiction.
When, in 1976, her family is killed in a violent ambush, 16-year-old Sandy is left penniless and orphaned in Rhodesia. She relocates to Durban, South Africa, to live with her grandmother in the bustling, urban environment. Thus begins Sandy’s transition from naif to sophisticated young woman. Though she dreams of attending school to become an art teacher, Sandy finds employment at a candy shop to generate income. Her co-worker Mary offers a different kind of education, teaching Sandy the art of attracting a man. Thanks to her newfound skills and confidence, Sandy secures a job as a receptionist at the Leopard Lair Hotel. In between working the front desk, dealing with customer kerfuffles, and studying her South African matric, Sandy is introduced to the world of sex and the pleasures and pitfalls of having affairs. Though Sandy encounters a few bad eggs, the good doctor Fletcher comes to her aid from time to time. Too bad he’s married and off-limits…or is he? Sandy’s transition from child to adult, her sexual awakening, and her journey to find her place in life are the primary focuses of O’Connor’s narrative. The young woman shows some promising spunk—e.g., her inadvertent attendance at a swingers party and her refusal to have sex with an irritating hotel guest—though at times she is frustratingly shallow and one-dimensional. O’Connor’s story is set during a time of extreme political and racial turmoil, yet there’s little reflection on current events. Mary tells Sandy to imagine being married to a rich man—“You’d be well looked after”—and much of the narrative revolves around this goal. Anecdotes of outrageous hotel guests provide some of the more amusing aspects of the novel, which is at its best when glimpsing South African political dynamics, as when Granny refuses to let Sandy date a man who is an Afrikaner.
A coming-of-age story with the potential to be something even more.