Magazine article The Spectator

Behind the Security Gates

Magazine article The Spectator

Behind the Security Gates

Article excerpt

PEOPLE LIKE OURSELVES by Pamela Jooste Doubleday, L10.99, pp. 302 ISBN 0385601484

Pamela Jooste is a breath of fresh air in the often close atmosphere of South African fiction. She has the art of accessibility. Her writing is clear, light and sharply observant. While having a serious purpose, the books are fun to read. Taking a cue from Herman Bosman, South Africa's greatest storyteller, she puts together small, unaffected personal stories, mainly of white South African lives; ordinary lives that resonate with ethnic and political complexities. She understands that, even in oppressive regimes, people still find the spirit to dance, go shopping, fall in love and indulge in small vanities. These things are welcome redress because, while South African music, through the country's darkest hours, always made the soul 'clap its hands and sing' and while South African theatre has, for four decades, been exploding and crackling with an edgy, expressionist brilliance, the country's fiction writers, in deference to the grim realities of the anti-apartheid struggle, have, until recently, inclined towards the undertaker's mode, or towards the safer genres of history and allegory. Yet great fiction has often come, not out of fair and just societies, but from precisely those places wrestling with complex, troubled and brutal pasts.

This is not to call Miss Jooste's novels great fiction. There is perhaps something just a little too palatable about the assuaging way she has with her country's particular tragedies, but the writing is always direct, perceptive and authentic. Her most appealing book to date, Frieda and Min, deals with a friendship from childhood between a conventional, lower-middleclass Jewish girl, bent on marriage and social advancement, and the daughter of a Natal English plantation family, who becomes a doctor and political prisoner.

People Like Ourselves is also the story of two women friends, Julia and Caroline, two well-off Johannesburg socialites who live behind security gates. They both have marriage problems. They have one child each. Both are gracious hostesses. They do lunch parties and wedding parties events that cause dark undercurrents among the almost invisible underclass persons who work as their gardeners and housemaids. Not much has changed for these ladies. That is to say, not yet. The other characters are Julia's husband Douglas, an odious creature from the reader's point of view, but one who has the art of attracting women. …

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