Wednesday, May 10, 2006

'The Gypsy Madonna' (Santa Montefiore)

The Gypsy Madonna is Chocolat meets Chateau Ella meets The Property of a Lady.

Santa Montefiore’s sixth novel gives us Mischa – six years old, clever, shy, and cruelly sidelined by his insular
Bordeaux village for having a soldier father who was a ‘Boche’, a German.

Hiding behind ferns, in doorways and under tables, Mischa spies on and befriends the colourful guests at the chateau in which Maman works after the war. The women adore him but he never says a word, until the dashing Coyote arrives to transform the lives of mother and son.

Then, The Gypsy Madonna takes another turn entirely: into Mischa’s adult life. Into intrigue and heirlooms, secrets and memories, tragedy and awakening. And the author unveils the Titian masterpiece that is the novel’s provenance.

This is a simply glorious book. But beware: the back cover blurb does it absolutely no justice.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas' (John Boyne)

The inside sleeve of John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas reads thus: “Usually we give some clues about the book on the jacket, but in this case we think that would spoil the reading of the book. We think it is important that you start to read without knowing what it is about.”

Ever seen such a blurb? Intrigued, I couldn’t help but grab the little book. And as soon as I started to read it, it knocked my literary socks off. I can’t tell you what it’s about, though, because that would ruin everything.

So let me say this: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas has been short-listed for the Ottakar's Children's Book Prize. It is deserving of this and other accolades, for it is superb, but it isn’t a children’s book.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a fable, along the lines of Antoine de St Exupery's life-changing The Little Prince – and just as good. Try not to go another day without reading it.

'Out to Score' (Mike Nicol & Joanne Hichens)

We’ve been deprived for too long – devouring novels that meander down the Sunset Strip; that cower in Central Park. We’ve consumed local colour not our own.

But Out to Score, the gritty collaboration by Mike Nicol and Joanne Hichens, gives us Cape Town. Real and ugly and familiar and breathtaking.

Nicol says that Cape Town has “become a character… because [it] has reached its puberty, and because [it] is the most complex city in the country… given to such emotional trauma…and to such dangerous beauty”.

Setting notwithstanding, Out to Score is a solid crime thriller with insights into perlemoen poaching (and its sharks, above and below sea-level).

Although I found the plot threads tricky to follow and the bad guys hard to spot, the story is ably held together by protagonists Mullet and Vincent: tongue-in-cheek stereotypes made real by their superb dialogue.

Buy it. You'll discover what a treat it is to read "the Green Point mile" and "a block past Giovanni's", and to know what the author sees.