Thursday, 23 May 2019

Wot I'm reading: Apartheid revisited

Toeckey Jones: BOKKIE

Toeckey Jones is a friend and neighbour of mine on the Sussex coast. In the 1990s he published three award-winning novels, set in his native South Africa. This year they have been reissued.

Bokkie is set in 1960s Johannesburg where 19-year-old Sam Mane lives in some style with his mother, a celebrated star of stage and screen. In the summer before he starts university Sam falls in love with Pixie, a ‘Bohemian’ painter five years older than him, and they begin a passionate affair. Pride of place in Pixie’s flat is given to her portrait of Bokkie, a black boy from her childhood whose story she is reluctant to share.

Toeckey Jones vividly evokes the heartless savagery of the Apartheid regime which casts a shadow over Pixie’s life, past and present. The sounds and smells of Africa emerge strongly from the author’s fluid prose. The era of Apartheid may be over but South Africa is not yet a safe or a happy place for all its citizens and even less so for its wildlife.

This is a poignant and timeless love story, beautifully told. Originally targeting Young Adults, Bokkie will capture the heart of readers of all ages.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Theatre at the cinema: Where soap operas steal their stories

Bill Pullman, Colin Morgan, Sally Field and Jenna Coleman


Arthur Miller’s theatrical ‘warhorse’, transmitted to cinemas around the world this week, still resonates after more than 70 years. We’re back in the post-war 1940s. Factory owner Joe Keller (Bill Pullman) has built his business by trampling on the lives of other people. One of his sons went missing on a bombing mission three years ago, but Joe’s wife (Sally Field) still believes he will return. Their other son (Colin Morgan) is in love with his brother’s sweetheart whose father was terribly wronged by Joe. Ann (Jenna Coleman) returns to their hometown for a short fateful visit.

From plays like this (and their celebrated equivalents in Scandinavian drama) you realize where soap operas steal their plots. Neighbouring families torn between love and hate. Businessmen driven by greed, protective of their families but with cavalier standards of honour. A guilty secret that is sure to end in grief.

Sally Field and Bill Pullman give solid performances, although there were moments when Ms Field reminded me of Acorn Antiques’ Mrs Overall – not, I’m sure, what the director intended! Colin Morgan dominates the stage as Chris, his heart aching for Ann but afraid to shatter his mother’s delusion that Ann is still committed to the son who didn’t come back from the war. Chris belongs in the ‘pantheon’ of theatrical sons and lovers; Miller pitches him midway between the klutzy tenderness of Tennessee Williams and the awful bleakness of Eugene O’Neill.

This is a play very well worth seeing if NT Live do an ‘Encore’ showing at your local cinema.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Wot I'm reading: Diamonds not a girl's best friend

Jeffery Deaver: THE CUTTING EDGE

A couple are brutally murdered when they collect their engage-ment ring from the Manhattan jeweller who made it. The jeweller is also killed. A wounded witness escapes and is then hounded by the assassin. Wheelchair-bound investigator Lincoln Rhyme and his partner (now wife) Amelia join the hunt for killer and witness.

Jeffery Deaver writes scenes from the viewpoint of the assassin, a Russian mercenary with a creepy passion for diamonds, so we know early on who the 'unsub' is. But who's he working for? And what’s the connection to the mini-earthquakes and fires associated with a thermal drilling project in Brooklyn?

Mr Deaver’s thrillers are always labyrinthine. The solution to this one hinges on stolen identities. I was a bit reminded of an Agatha Christie. Rhyme has the added advantage of 21st-century forensic technology but he solves crimes by chipping away at tiny clues in people’s behaviour much as Poirot always did. This is not up there with his absolute best (The Bone Collector immediately comes to mind), but it’s elegantly written and cunningly plotted. The wounded witness, an Asian, is a well-rounded character and will hopefully bring Jeffery millions of new readers from that community.