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Novel set in Johannesburg

8th July 2019

Novel set in JohannesburgThe Blessed Girl by Angela Makholwa, novel set in Johannesburg.

This is the story of a young woman, Bontle Tau who is now 28 (but who actually casts herself as being in her early 20s). She hails from a neglected and abusive background in a township. Her mother runs a shebeen and has a taste for alcohol, and she has entertained a variety of men during Bontle’s formative years; she also wasn’t particular about safeguarding her daughter in this rather unwholesome environment.

Bontle leaves this challenging environment, abandoning her much younger brother Loki to his fate and marries a rather steady, doctor-in-training husband, well out of her class. But after a period of boredom, she starts to embrace the culture of Blesser (essentially a sugar daddy) and Blessee (the recipient of the older man’s munificence). Yes, liaisons such as these could, of course, have another name.

So, she leads the high life, with wobbly moments, sharing her wardrobe of upmarket items to her Instagram account, enjoying luxury breaks (which of course she also flags for her adoring fans), and along the way beds those men who, she feels, will be of service to her. All the while she is running her own company which involves supplying exquisite hair extensions (sourced from Brazilians, Indians or Peruvians) to hair parlours.

She is in essence a showpiece of the modern era, self obsessed, botoxed, nipped and tucked, and out for what she can make of herself, with a general disregard for other people and their feelings. She is self serving and pretty crass as she talks to her followers (us, the readers among others) and shares her more intimate thoughts and details.

It is quite hard to spend several hours in the company of a narcissist who needs her audience to reflect back her self worth and stunning persona. I nearly gave up reading halfway through because being in the company of Bontle, with her pronounced – and emotionally – damaged persona, combined with narcissistic personality traits, is not a salutary experience. It is poignant at times, funny at others but the ennui took over. I just kept hoping that there would be a turning point that would shape the storyline rather than continue as a dismal display of me, me, me – it’s truly exhausting to be with a character who needs so much approbation and attention. And indeed we do discover more about her, about 2/3rds through the book, when the novel gets into its stride having set the scene so thoroughly.

For me the balance was out of kilter, there was just too much information on Bontle’s lifestyle (setting the scene, as it were). Her vacuity of course is a coping mechanism for trauma she sustained earlier in her life. It’s a life of smoke and mirrors which protects her inner damage and keeps others in her daily life (including the reader) out at a safe distance. I get all of that but I struggled to feel the empathy for which the character clearly yearns (and I do think the author wants the reader to empathise with her character and identify with the poignancy of her plight).

The writing is good and the story, despite my reservations, does flow well. City life, too, makes a good backdrop to the story.

Possibly an enjoyable read for those who tune in to Love Island and Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

(I am now also curious to know what a Peppermint Crisp Pie tastes like, one of the deserts that Bontle has with one of her men friends – a true South African dish, apparently!).

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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