Wednesday, 20 April 2011

You can't get lost in Cape Town (Wicomb) 420

One of the great things about working in the reading rooms at the Bodleian is seeing the books which people are ordering up. 99.9% of the time the books don't interest me terribly, but occasionally someone is doing some research that involves the consultation of a Virago Modern Classic, and with the eye for a green spine that I have developed over the last couple of years, I usually spot it a mile off. About half of the time I spot a green spine, it is one that I haven't come across, and if so, I usually have a quick look at it, and quite often I am tempted into reading something that otherwise I might have taken a little while to come across. One of my recent spots was You can't get lost in Cape Town by Zoe Wicomb.

This is a stunning portrait of Frieda Shenton, a young South African. Given a rural upbringing, she moves to Cape Town, where she struggles somewhat to fit in. Yet when she returns home, she finds herself changed by the city life and no longer fits in there either. Gender, class, race issues are all addressed as obviously the apartheid has a bearing on the times. And at the end, she does return to her roots. Bits of the book were very hard to read, such as the abortion of a nearly full-term baby.

It's not written as a straight novel, rather as a series of interlinked short stories, and I wonder how much it loosely autobigraphical, since the last one ends with Frieda starting to forge a career as a writer (Wicomb wrote a number of short stories and essays on South African literature apparently).

The blurb on the back of this book also says "[this] is one of the first contemporary novels to join the Virago Modern Classics". It was written in 1987, so it is less contemporary now. I would love to find a list of VMCs with the dates of original publication on to see how many VMCs are "contemporary". And I guess it would just be interesting to see the spread of titles. Something for a rainy day, I guess.

1 comment:

  1. I had never heard of this one before; apartheid setting interests me in books dobone to keep in mind.

    Not as easy as a master list of publication dates but the copyright page will tell you when it was first published and when Virago published so, telling you whether it was contemporary or not.