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A novella set in South Africa (“Africa Time”)

15th September 2014

Alarm Girl by Hannah Vincent, novella set in South Africa.

Once in a while a little gem of a book comes across our path. And Alarm Girl is one such gem. A short and cracking  read.

IMG_2538Indigo and Robin are two children whose mum, Karen, has died, and they are currently living with their maternal grandparents in the UK. Dad has relocated to South Africa and this is the story of the first trip the two children undertake to visit him in his new home at Christmas. It is written through the eyes of 11 year old Indigo, who prowls around the house and grounds, just like the lions in the bush, observing and ingesting what she experiences. “Africa Time” is the slow speed at which daily life unfolds, a stark contrast to life back in the UK. She slides from her all encompassing South African experience, to reminiscing in her mind with mum about their life before her death. This is a curious construction for a book but once the flow settles it is very easy to appreciate the quality of the prose and the rhythm of the story as it builds. There are gentle clues about Mum’s fragile health as the story builds to expounding the reasons behind her death, and the author finds just the right line between what the child in her narrative is taking on board, and what the adult pressures on the parental couple have been. She also creatively develops the backstory of the early relationship of Indigo’s parents, which cradles this vignette of their power-packed, south african visit.

Indigo even toys with the possibility that her mum may somehow have been killed by her dad, brought into sharp relief by the harsh realities of the South African environment around her – the Alarm Girl of the title is her personal emergency alarm that she has to keep with her, even in the gated environs of her dad’s luxury dwelling. As she observes the people who work for her dad, and explores the Bush, and comes face to face with brutal poverty, her imagination is fired by crawling thoughts. And as her Dad now seems to be in a relationship with with Beautiful, his new girlfriend, Indigo simply cannot shake off the feeling of mistrust. The tensions and social divide between black and white are acutely portrayed, as are her forays beyond the closed gates and out into wilderness encounters and township hardship.

One of her pleasures in her new environment is the company of Tonyhog, a domesticated bushpig that lives on the compound and trails around. Together with Zami, who works around the house and garden, they tend the pig and with their care of him, a friendship between two young people – from two vastly different backgrounds – begins to build.

The author has a great gift of finding the voice of an 11 year old girl and of setting this condensed glimpse of one family in the dry heat of South Africa. A true achievement.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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