Read of the Week

Knucklebone

Nechama Brodie

Pan MacMillan

Review: John Harvey

It stands to reason that for the most part, South African authors have tended towards themes depicting the atrocities of the past and how these relate to present-day socio-economic and political challenges.

Characterisation is heavily influenced by the oppression of one by another, as quite simply, that is apartheid’s legacy. It is understandable that novelists have sought to tell these stories, as for so long they remained buried beneath the surface, whispered in dark corners but never shouted for fear of state reprisal.

The unfortunate, and most likely unintended, consequence is that in their pursuit to spread these tales of hope and despair, persecution and redemption, the “message” has taken on greater import than the storytelling. To the reading audience, there is nothing new, and the all-too-familar narrative comes across as heavily contrived.

In the past few years, however, there has been a noticeable movement among some writers to portray South Africa as she is; to develop characters within the country’s curious and often astonishing locations, to celebrate the cultural quirks, to breathe in the sweet or foul-smelling stink. Importantly, there is no motive for any of it.

This, journalist Nechama Brodie’s first novel, is just such a book – and a thoroughly enjoyable one at that. South Africa, as it turns out, can write herself. All she needs is a good narrator.

Knucklebone tells the story of former policeman-turned-academic Ian Jack once again immersing himself in the world of crime, but encountering a new, otherworldly dimension. Establishing the link between the mysterious death of an apprentice sangoma, a rhino poaching syndicate and a coven of “witches” is a quest “Mr Jack” must undertake, while simultaneously dealing with his feelings for Reshma Patel, a colleague from his former life who is also on the case.

All these facets are so delightfully South African in their depiction, emphasised by Brodie’s use of magic realism to take the reader into the inner workings of the ancestral world – foreign to Ian and Reshma, but awakening in them their own struggles with spirituality. Brodie is clearly a keen observer of the contemporary, and that serves this fast-paced crime caper extremely well.

It enables the reader to identify with the protagonists as they nervously tackle a strange dimension, making them immediately likeable and worthy of being willed on in their pursuits.

One would hope that Brodie has a follow-up, or even a series, in the pipeline.

Just as Deon Meyer has struck gold with Detective Inspector Benny Griessel, so it is hoped we will see Ian and Reshma again.