Plausibility is a subjective concept, especially in reading. There are premises, plots, and characters in novels I love that make other readers put the book down. Today’s mini-reviews exemplify the term because both novels contain characters and situations that I could not believe in and so impacted my ability to enjoy the book as much as someone else might. In other words, perfect It’s Not You, It’s Me books!
Hum If You Don't Know the Words by Bianca Marais
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons
Publication date: July 11th 2017
Genres: Childhood, Historical, Literary
Hum if You Don’t Know the Words is a novel about the apartheid violence in South Africa in the 1970s.The novel is split equally between Robin, a nine-year-old white girl whose parents are murdered and Beauty, a 42-year-old African woman whose daughter disappears after the march that sparks the Soweto/Johannesburg riots. Giving two characters even play can be risky and in the case of Hum if You Don’t Know the Words it didn’t work for me. I found Beauty’s story infinitely more interesting and believable—a black woman, raising her children alone because their father works in the mines and is likely dead, traveling days to get to Soweto to look for her teenage daughter who may have taken up with the anti-apartheid fighters. Robin veers between a wildly ignorant child and a girl with the coping skills and psychological self-awareness of an adult. This dichotomy means she doesn’t know what a funeral or coffin is, but not only has an imaginary twin sister, but knows that she created the twin to cope with emotions she did not want to express. It’s as if author Bianca Marais writes Robin both from the present of her childhood and from the future of her adult self. Either way it’s incongruous and impinged on my desire to understand or care about the character. She left me cold.
Marais’s writing style was enough to keep me reading and Beauty’s story was so compelling that I definitely think this is a novel that will appeal to other readers. Towards the end, a hint about a ‘story for another time’ seems to indicate there is more of the story to come, but I would have preferred hearing all of Beauty’s story at once.
The Architecture of Loss by Z.P. Dala
Published by Pegasus Books
Publication date: July 4th 2017
I was initially drawn to The Architecture of Loss by the title—it’s so freighted with meaning. Plus, the book’s premise sounded promising: Afroze is a successful 42-year-old woman who returns to her childhood home because her mother is dying and she hopes to reconcile with her. The novel opens in the present with her arriving at her mother’s home and immediately devolves into her being treated badly by the housekeeper and then by her mother, who seems almost demented in her delight at being cruel to the grown daughter she hasn’t seen in over thirty years. That this happens right at the beginning is so jarring that I could not see any reason why Afroze would stay or would want to learn more about this woman who is supposed to be her mother. The feeling was too much like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane—a freakish woman adorned with garish make-up surrounded by an odd group of characters—a younger lover, a malevolent housekeeper and her precocious, creepy young daughter. It may be that the novel moved into important emotional territory but I did not make it that far.