11 January 2011
Review: OF WILD DOGS, Jane Taylor
Source: Local library
Blurb (back cover)
Something nasty is coming out of the woodwork at the Museum...and in the lonely bushveld, it's not only Nature that's red in tooth and claw.This sparkling first novel by respected academic, Jane Taylor is a whodunit with local flavour and postmodern flair. An artist at the Museum is dead: sharp-tongued Hannah, a former exile, whose passions turn out to be fatal. Three very different people must combine forces to uncover her murderer: Ewan Christopher, Hannah's former lover and a British journalist, out of his depth in the new South Africa; Inspector Cicero Matyobeni, the world-weary policeman from Khayelitsha, holding on to his compassion for dear life; and the beautiful but insecure pathologist, Helena de Villiers, who is becoming perhaps too personally involved...The action moves from the Company Gardens of Cape Town to the wild grasslands of the Limpopo Province, in a complex and clever plot, full of red herrings and puns, and peopled by academics, chiefs, corrupt businessmen, sangomas, ex-security policemen, car-guards and a Greek goddess or two.
I found this a difficult novel to get started on. One of the problems for me was the complexity of its sentence structure and the density of the writing. Sometimes words just got in the way.
The second hurdle was the novel's structure. I struggled to bring the characters that I met in the first four chapters together into some sort of feasible story line. I was well over 50 pages in before I had any idea of what was going on. There were times when I felt the author was playing academic games with the reader, and others when I felt I was catching the tail end of a lecture. There was even one very short chapter which out of the blue was written in the first person.
However I can see why OF WILD DOGS stuck a chord with those who award the Olive Schreiner Prize (see below). There was certainly a lot of comment on South African culture and environment. I have come away understanding a little more local culture, I think. It does have a clever plot, but it just felt a bit manipulated at times.
My rating: 4.2
Jane Taylor has been the Skye Chair of Dramatic Art at the University of the Witwatersrand. She is the winner of the Olive Schreiner Prize for Of Wild Dogs, her first novel, which was published in 2005. (The Olive Schreiner Prize is an annual award to new and emergent talent administered by the English Academy of South Africa)
I am "counting" OF WILD DOGS for the 2011 Global Reading Challenge (South Africa)