I like to read and if possible, promote local south African novels, so I was looking forward to this acclaimed 2020 release. In this instance my expectations were skewed by the misleading jacket blurb.
Paige Nick, enthused on the front cover: What a novel! Hilarious and beautifully written, I smiled the whole way through. Reverting back to her comment when I’d finished the book, I wondered whether we’d been reading the same book. The Blurb is misleading . Emphasis is on the Nine Letters, when in fact, 65% of the book relates to narrator, lawyer Teddy Dickerson, nephew of the recently deceased Aunt Val( who wrote the Nine Letters and the progress of a very emotionally fraught contested deceased estate case. It felt as if two unrelated stories (1) the letters/Aunt Val’s nine correspondents and (2) the Smollen family and their fight over the estate had been stuck together. Not very successfully. Granted, unhappy gay lawyer Teddy is the common factor between the two story threads, but the blurb makes no mention of the legal story. Guided by the blurb I was expecting a fun, light read but found the book far from a laugh fest.
TD is going through a mid-life crisis, gloomily contemplating a bland and predictable old age. The Smollen mother and daughter have enormous emotional baggage, and are haunted by a dark family history with a tragic secret at its heart.
And what of quirky old Aunt Val and her surprising collection of correspondents? Here the book becomes uncomfortably philosophical. I’m a life-long letter writer, so was looking forward to this part of the story but on the whole I found the letters disappointing. And overshadowed by the dramatic legal side of the story. Granted the letters did enable unhappy TD soften somewhat and discover that he actually was fond of his difficult Aunt Val – well, sort of.
I did enjoy the Kwa-Zulu Natal setting of the book. A province that I have visited often.
I finished the novel with mixed feelings. However, other may have different views. I’d love to hear from them.
2 thoughts on “NINE LETTERS – John Webb”
Hi Alison. As you know we have rather different views on this book. I did find it light and somewhat amusing. The Smollen case works out in the end so the general tone is upbeat. I, too, enjoyed the local setting. The letters were varied, and the correspondents likewise. I enjoyed it.
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Ah, the curse of the “expectation”. Sometimes, the disjoint is too much to overcome. I agree that the blurb DOES make it appealing to me. Especially with February being Letter Month.
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