Loved it, this is my kind of popular summer read, it brought to mind the recent Alaskan classic I read and enjoyed immensely Two Old Women: An Alaskan Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival by Velma Wallis and another that I didn’t enjoy so much A Man Called Ove.
It’s a story of octogenarian women Hortensia and Marion who are neighbours in a suburb in Cape Town, South Africa. Marion is a white woman, born there, who has lived through political change, though not learned much from it, rather she has tried to keep as much distance as she possibly can from ever having to confront her deeply embedded, never dealt with ancestral shame.
Hortensia is a black woman, whose parents left Barbados for London, where she grew up and was educated, becoming a successful textile designer, and marrying an Englishman, with whom she moved to Nigeria and eventually (not sure why) to retire in South Africa.
Both women have had similarly successful professional lives, both run their own businesses, Marion as an architect, though the birth of her children brought her independence to an earlier close than Hortensia.
Now they are neighbours, on the same street committee and keep each in check – they each represent to the other things about themselves that they would never admit shame or hurt them, so instead they take their bitterness out on each other, assuming that the other isn’t capable of understanding their perspective.
Here Marion contemplates her particular shame:
“What Hortensia didn’t seem to understand was that sometimes we have to honour our ancestors and side with them. This meant we justified what was horrible and turned away from what needed scrutiny. This life of ignoring the obvious required a certain amount of stamina. The alternative to this was to set on a path to make rubbish of what had gone before us. This approach – of principles – activism and struggle – required stamina too. All the same, she’d chosen the other one.”
While grumpy old Ove was just plain annoying and unpleasant to spend a whole book with, these two are actually good company, they have interesting back stories, that are drip fed throughout the narrative, they’re funny and although they are going to learn something when their lives inevitably come closer than they would have wished for, there’s not that sense of over the top, moral victory, I liked that while they overcome something by the end, they don’t change too much.
I picked this book up when it was long listed for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2017 and while it didn’t make the short list, it definitely made my list of authors to continue to watch out for and read.
Yewande Omotoso was also born in Barbados, grew up in Nigeria and moved to South Africa where she writes and runs her own architectural practice. This is her second novel. Her debut novel Bom Boy was shortlisted for the 2012 Sunday Times Fiction Prize.