My March Favourites

What made me nominate the three titles as March Favourites?  the  Remy Ngamije  novel was finally an African novel that told a darn good story, as opposed to the usual polemic tub thumping,  and the Joe Heap book posed such a fascinating What If: scenario, that kept me thinking and discussing with friends. Looking back, I see that the Joe Heap novel was a February read, so if I’m still rambling on about it in March, that’s a sure indication of readability & note?

Another  Top Read in March came in late, at month end: The Motion of the Body Through Space – Lionel Shriver. What a fearless  writer she is, slaughtering sacred cows left right and centre. She lets rip at the PC & Woke brigade (and how I do agree!), at the Born Again Christians, but most of all, she eviscerates our current obsession with Extreme Sports,  specifically Triathalons. She also has the chutzpah to make her central female figure Seranata a thoroughly difficult misanthrope, who acts as the perfect counterfoil to the Lycra clad, manic personal trainer named – wait for it – Bambi. Oh, the book is a delight – don’t miss it!

The Hundred Year House is  a novel with a retrogressive timeline.  The story started in 1999, and divided into  in five sections, finishing in 1900.  The Prologue appeared second last, prior to the section starting in 1900.  Rebecca Makkai’s writing is witty and clear enough, but the big cast of characters (an Artists’ Colony situated in Laurelfield house, hence the title, The Hundred Year House) ultimately led to confusion in my mind as to who was who, and who did what, and finally when the action happened.  I checked other reviews, and discovered  I was not the only befuddled reader. Adventurous and experimental plots, timelines and characters – why not? This is the world of fiction, after all. But, at books’ end, when readers are saying: Huh? I don’t get it, then maybe a more conventional style would work better.

I succumbed and bought a boxed set of Faith Martin’s DI Hillary Green Mysteries, #1 – 5. What a good buy it was! Set in England,  written by a writer who thinks up unusual plots, peoples them with credible, contemporary  characters and appears to have a good grasp of modern policing in Britain, especially as it applies to police women  facing good old fashioned male chauvinism on the way up the ladder. I’m not a huge crime fan, but Faith Martin provides intelligent readable mysteries, that I enjoy reading. 

I was looking forward to Raynor Winn’s follow up book to The Salt Path.  In  Book Two the couple battle bravely on, despite the lack of money and a permanent home, plus Moth’s deteriorating health. Despite the difficulties, they continue, in no small part due to their love for each other, and the natural world.

Raynor Winn has an intense, visceral relationship to and with the natural world.  So Book Two  provided lyrical descriptions of nature, particularly about  their  hike in Iceland,  but I must confess I enjoyed The Salt Path much more.


The Eternal Audience of One – Remy Ngamije . Life, love, refugees, student life in Cape Town, from a Namibian writer’s viewpoint. Some laughs, surprises , heartbreak, hard times, confessions,  life lessons. A contemporary African  novel. Try it.

The Motion of the Body Through Space – Lionel Shriver. Brilliant!  A dissection of obsession with extreme sports, and an examination of a long marriage. A vastly entertaining commentary on contemporary life. Best book I’ve read so far this year.  Not to be missed.

The Porpoise – Mark Haddon. I didn’t enjoy this choppy narrative mashup between the old story of Pericles, Prince of Tyre, melded onto a modern tale of incest. Not because of the incest, which was sensitively handled, but because of the narrative switchovers. Not for me.

The Hundred Year House – Rebecca Makkai . A confusing novel about an artist’s colony in Laurelfield House, and the family who owned the house. Family, Fate, ghosts, and a house.

Waiting for Monsieur Bellivier – Britta Rostlund.  But who is Monsieur B? this is the mystery at the heart of a novel set in Paris. The revelation of his identity delivers a Tunisian grocer from  his humdrum life and his  family filled with deceit. The quest also delivers Helena from a numb and lonely life.  It was an okay read, but not rave material.

The Reminders – Val Emmich. Ten year old Joan can remember every day in her life since the age of 5. Her main goal in life is to be remembered, so she and her dad compose a song and enter it into a contest for songwriters. The novel is about family, music, ageing, dying, secrets, and gay men dreaming of  a baby to complete their own family, narrated (mainly ) via Joan’s eyes. An unusual contemporary novel. Recommended. 

Detective Hillary Greene Mysteries – Faith Martin. (e-books)

#1        DI Hillary Greene: Murder on the Oxford Canal

#2        DI Hillary Green: Murder at the University

#3        DI Hillary Greene: Murder of the Bride


The Wild Silence – Raynor Winn. Life after The Salt Path. Moth goes to University and Raynor struggles with living in the city. Then a stranger offers them  use of his rundown neglected cider farm in Cornwall, and a temporary home in return for re-wilding the farm. A return to outdoor life and hard work, proves beneficial to both. They undertake a rugged hike along a wild trail in Iceland, which they survive despite appalling weather and really tough conditions. The book ends with their return to the farm, and the apple harvest.



We’ve all read book blurbs.  They can be many things: appealing, enticing, informative, baffling, boring, misleading , downright untrue   …. and a host of other options. Listed below are some of the common phrases we often read. Familiar, yes? Aha! But they’re coded, and now the hidden  meaning is revealed.  Tongue in cheek? Of course! Read on.

Enchanting                  there’s a dog in it

Heartwarming             a dog and a child

Moving                        a child dies

Heart-rending             A dog and a child die

Thoughtful                  Mind numbingly tedious

Haunting                     set in the past

Exotic                          set abroad

Audacious                   set in the future

Award winning           set in India

Perceptive                   set in Norther London

Provocative                 infuriating

Epic                             editor cowed by author’s reputation

In the tradition of       shamelessly derivative

From the pen of a master      same-old, same-old

Spare and taut            under-researched

Richly detailed            overly-researched

Disturbing                   author bonkers

Stellar                         author young and photogenic

Classic                         author hanging in there

Vintage                       author past it

I’m sure you could add a few definitions of your own.  I’d love to read them in the Comments box – feel free.

I need to add that I picked the list up on Facebook, where there was no indication of the original author. Whoever, and wherever you are, thanks for the laugh and applause for your witty list.


In 2021 I’m trying to read more African writers. I formed the idea last year, and am actively on the lookout for African writers. Please note: this does not necessarily mean black writers.  African is home to writers of the light skinned variants too. Our continent stretches over vast geographical and cultural distances, from the Arab world in the far North, moving South to the racial hodgepodge world of South Africa.

We all know our neighbourhood Congolese car guard. Apparently the Congolese have  the car  guarding sector  all sewn up, in Cape Town. Much the same way that the Zimbabweans have cornered the waitron sector, and the Malawians the Petrol Jockey jobs.

Way back in 2019 in the happy days when we attended large public events, I listened to Remy Ngamije speak on a panel at the annual Open Book Festival, at the Fugard Theatre.  He was introduced as a Namibian, but his heritage goes back to Rwanda. His family fled the country during the civil war.  

He made an impression on me, and mentioned his novel in progress. I recall him being somewhat dismissive of life in Windhoek. I made a note to buy his novel, and here it is.

His  novel is heavily autobiographical, as first novels so often are.  Serafin is the narrator, oldest boy in a Rwandan refugee family of three boys, transplanted to Namibia and a different way of life in every regard. It’s a coming of age novel, that covers boyhood, then student life at varsity in  Cape Town where Sera  makes  friends, composes interminable playlists, goes clubbing with diligence, and samples women with even more diligence.

Ngamije’s  writing style offers  a  wry  turn of phrase, often barbed and critical , but handled deftly.   He has plenty to say about life in South Africa, racism, and the endemic corruption, plus  the hardships of refugee status in both Namibia and RSA.   Most of the opinion is  very familiar,  but its  refreshing to read the  familiar criticisms  about South African life from an African writer.

The highlight of the book for me was his character, Maxime, the Congolese hairdresser in his Mowbray barbershop – an area I know well. Maxime’s outrageous stories are laugh-out-loud funny. We also meet other characters from the continent: Idriss, the taxi driver from Benin, the students from Zimbabwe and others, notably the rich, white chicks from Camps Bay, in Cape Town. Plus the Coloured Lesbian, Bianca, the only girl in Serafin’s High Lords posse. If you live in SA, you’ll understand why a Coloured Lesbian is a contentious character.

On the downside, the book is a tad under 500 pages; a pacey, action-driven novel it ain’t.  And then, after all the leisurely  story-telling, suddenly the  ending  is abrupt.

 Did I enjoy it? Yes.  Did I gain insight into the life of refugees? This is Refugees 101 on steroids.  Yes.  Can I recommend it? Yes.


The Eternal Audience of One – Remy Ngamije . Life, love, refugees, student life in Cape Town, from a Namibian writer’s viewpoint. Some laughs, surprises , heartbreak, hard times, confessions,  life lessons. A contemporary novel. Try it.