Disclaimer: It may appear that I am a loser expat who harps on about South Africa all the time, and only reads South African stuff. This is not true. I read everything I can get my hands on. I even even (and you can tell this to your friends) once read twenty pages of James Joyce's Ulysses. Okay, maybe fifteen. Fifteen whole pages of garbled nonsense. I cannot tell you what it was about, as much of it was in foreign languages anyway, but I persevered for that long. And he was Irish, see?
It just so happened that recently I read two books by South African women roughly the same age as me, both of whom also happen to blog, and both of whose blogs I read regularly. The books are: Strange Nervous Laughter by Bridget McNulty and Mushy Peas on Toast by Mushy Peas on Toast, aka Laurian Clemence.
This is awesome in so many ways. Even though I haven't met these women, I feel I know their blog personas at least. And they are my age and South African and they have made it in the big world of writing. And that inspires me no end.
And it is so much fun reading novels set in the country you are from. There is not a huge abundance of South African fiction out there. Strange Nervous Laughter is set in my hometown of Durban, and it is a novelty to be reading about familiar landmarks as the backdrop to a story. Even Sunrise Chip n Cheese aka Johnnies rotis makes it in there. Legend. I have fond memories of forcing their rotis down my throat and then trying to forget I ever did. They must be the South African equivalent of Discworld's Cut Me Own Throat Dibbler and his "sausages inna bun".
I digress. The novels are good too. Strange Nervous Laughter by Bridget McNulty has been out for a while, but I only read it last month. It is indeed full of strange characters with unusual abilities, brought together during one of Durban's hottest summers. One character can speak Whale, another can hear death. Another discovers a hidden talent for motivational speaking.
Anyone who has experienced a humid Durban summer knows that at the point at which your head goes all fuzzy and your limbs are fluid, well, anything can happen. A person can break the World record for eating exclusively green food, and not only that, he can attract a beautiful woman who wouldn't usually look at him twice. And more importantly, he can keep that attraction alive.
Then there is Mushy Peas on Toast, by Laurian Peas O' Toast Clemence. This book is hilarious and quirky, much like Peas herself. She chronicles the adventures of a newly single girl in Jozi, the city of gold; a girl with a penchant for Norwegian salmon and Lionel Richie. A girl who makes prospective boyfriends pass the guinea pig test:
"Randy is just a laid back, happy guy, who I can't help but adore. Take for example when I first introduced him to my pet guinea pig. Mason-Rodney took to him just like that, which rarely happens, as Mason-Rodney is very picky." (p76).
If you read Peas's blog and find her unique take on life amusing, you will love her book. She must be one of the funniest South Africans out there at the moment.
If you are not South African, that should not stop you from reading these novels. They are both about love, and love is universal. Not so universal are the ways in which the various characters choose to deal with love, guinea pig or no.
Just remember: if you do read them, South Africa is not a country invaded by weird androids from the future. "Robots" is just the name we give to traffic lights. Ask not why. Just smile and nod and remember, we spent a lot of time in virtual isolation from the rest of the world.