It’s a fact: from the end of April on it is the time for book awards, book festivals and a glory of books falling off presses with such rapidity they become a blur. This marks the beginning of my Christmas reading pile, for there is no way anyone on this planet can read everything.
Right now, I’m looking forward to the first big local literary award, the Sunday Times Literary Awards, divided into fiction (the Barry Ronge Award) and non-fiction (the Alan Paton Award). It is, I believe, still South Africa’s richest book award and we are already privy to the pretty substantial longlist.
We will have to wait until mid-May for the shortlist, which is when most of the infighting and speculation actually begins. But also in mid-May come two book festivals: the one day Kingsmead Book Fair and the three day Franschhoek Literary Festival. To a certain extent, they share international authors.
I’ve been a fan of Kate Mosse’s Languedoc Trilogy (Labyrinth, Sepulchre, Citadel), set in and around Carcassonne in the south of France. She has just started a new series, The Burning Chambers (also the title of the first book in the series). It begins as a prologue in a Franschhoek graveyard on 28th February 1862.
Why you’ll enjoy it:
This is vintage Kate Mosse and she has found a goldmine in the rich and violent late medieval history of Carcassonne. In a way, The Burning Chambers is a later continuation of the Languedoc Trilogy. It’s set during the religious wars which plagued France in the 16th century and which led to the widespread emigration of Huguenots. In South Africa they settled in (yes, you’re correct) Franschhoek. The novel begins in the old part of Carcassonne, moves to Toulouse and then to Puivert where, for the time being, the family at the centre of the novel takes up residence in an old castle, ever on the lookout for Catholic troops which would show no mercy for those rebellious to the French royal house. What I enjoy about Kate’s plotting is that she remains true to historical facts, so you get a good idea of how tumultuous and dangerous those times were.
The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse (Mantle) Release date: 3 May 2018
Also appearing at Franschhoek is Mick Herron, a writer new to me but who comes attached with a trail of praise that is almost daunting. ‘Herron may be the most literate, and slyest, thriller writer in English today,’ ‘Smart, sharp British wit at its finest. A uniquely brilliant take on the British spy novel.’ Believe me, that’s just scratching the surface.
Why you’ll enjoy it:
Two names keep coming up when the name Mick Herron is uttered: John le Carré and Len Deighton. It seems to me hugely apt that just as the western world starts talking about a new cold war, we remember, sometimes wistfully, the intricate elegance of Deighton’s and Le Carré’s plotting. Herron, it seems, is a chip off the old block. Or bloc. Real Tigers opens thus: ‘Like most forms of corruption, it began with men in suits.’ And I’m sold. It’s London, miserable and grey. In some unspeakable no-name building a bunch of miserable desk bound spies eke out their day. Until one of them is kidnapped, off the street, in no more than seven seconds. The spies are atwitter. Their boss is Jackson Lamb who takes off his socks to scratch between his toes with a biro. But you know he is shrewd and probably honest. But is he going to lay it on the line for his kidnapped, formerly alcoholic spy? Since I began reading (and loving) Real Tigers, Herron has brought out London Rules, more of which another time. I have to buy this man dinner. In Franschhoek, naturally.
Real Tigers by Mick Herron (John Murray)
Tony Park is the most amiable of authors. Nothing is too much trouble. He is lanky, and his shirt cuffs don’t quite come down to his wrists. His Australian accent is so strong he could be in Alice Springs sipping from a billabong. He spends six months of his year in South Africa. He is bush bananas. This year he is bringing out two novels – a sign of his increasing international success. And he’s going to be in Franschhoek.
Why you’ll enjoy it:
Rumour has it that Tony Park can barely walk down a Sydney street without being mobbed. Perhaps that is why he latest heroine, Kerry Maxwell, is an Australian lawyer visiting South Africa as a volunteer at a wildlife orphanage. And then comes the mayhem as Parks delves into the murky and dangerous depths of the world of poaching. Kerry’s boss is unlikeable and angry and has been imprisoned in Moçambique following a shootout with elephant poachers. She rides into town to help him and finds herself enmeshed in the violence surrounding the poaching war. Tony’s story rips along and takes you with it. Great for a public holiday weekend read or with a whisky in hand after an outdoor shower beneath a Bushveld sky.
Captive by Tony Park (Macmillan)
I think he’s done it again. Niq Mhlongo’s much anticipated book of short stories Soweto, Under the Apricot Tree is as delightful between the joyous covers as you would expect. He is justifiably proud of his latest piece of work, his second book (after Affluenza) of short stories, and three bestselling novels to boot.
Why you’ll enjoy it:
Ever since Niq’s first bestseller Dog Eat Dog, he’s produced novels and short stories at a steady pace. What has changed about his work is that it has undeniably become more sophisticated, characterised by a wry sense of humour that cannot be slapped down even if you wanted to and a strong and refreshing bent towards satire. taking it all in. Mhlongo is hugely in demand as an artist in residence internationally and his books are beginning to sell into that vital market. But to Soweto, Under the Apricot Tree. In all but one story, humour and his customary bent for satire are to the fore. I rolled around as a pompous MEC visits his love nest with his drivers dozing in the car outside; the zama zamas beneath the red soil of Soweto, Bra Makhenzo who, almost word for word sounds like a certain loquacious caller to a talk radio station and had me in stitches; an eccentric homeless man who encircles trees day and night and who does not want to be saved – this book is nothing more or less than a homegrown gem from one of our most genuinely talented and liked writers. Yes, of course he’ll be in Franschhoek.
Soweto, Under the Apricot Tree by Niq Mhlongo (Kwela Books)