Author Archives: Vivien Horler

Eleanor Oliphant may be completely fine – but there’s something wrong with this picture


Review: Vivien Horler

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman (HarperCollins)

Eleanor Oliphant may think she’s fine, but she isn’t, not by a long chalk.

She works for a graphic design company in Glasgow, but is not one of the creatives: she works in accounts. She comes to work at 8.30am, takes an hour for lunch, and leaves at 5.30pm.

She listens to a radio serial while she eats her supper – always pasta with pesto and salad – and then either reads, does the crossword, or occasionally watches television. She goes to bed at 10pm. Every Wednesday she speaks to Mummy on the phone. Continue reading

Novels bring fading memories of World War II to frightening life

alice networkReviews: Vivien Horler

The Alice Network, by Kate Quinn (William Morrow/ Harper Collins)

Everyone Brave is Forgiven, by Chris Cleave (Sceptre)

Wars that still echo down our history are slipping beyond human memory. No one alive remembers the Boer War, which continues to have a huge impact on South Africa today, nor World War I.

As for World War II, it ended literally a lifetime ago – 73 years ago this week – and there are fewer and fewer people who remember it.

Within a decade it will be gone from lived experience, and our only access to a conflagration that changed the world will be through novels that bring it alive.

everyone brave is forgivenTwo absorbing war novels demonstrate the courage demanded by people who lived through the war, not all of them soldiers.

The Alice Network is a page-turner about women spies in France during World War I, and how their experiences in that war affect their lives during and just after World War II.

It is London in 1947, two years after World War II has ended, and Charlie St Clair is a wealthy young American whose mother has brought her to Europe for an abortion. Continue reading

Franschhoek link in sweeping historical novel set in France

burning chamabers

burning chambers

Review: Adelle Horler

The Burning Chambers, by Kate Mosse (Mantle/ Pan Macmillan)

Fans of Kate Mosse – the author, not the model – will be delighted to know there’s another historical French trilogy on its way, with the first book, The Burning Chambers, released in May.

Happily for us in South Africa, part of the series will play out here – in fact, the entire story was inspired by Mosse’s visit to the Huguenot Museum while at the Franschhoek Literary Festival* several years ago.

“There, on the wall, was the name of a family I’d written about in my first historical novel, Labyrinth,’’ she says. “It was a shiver-down-the-spine moment.” Continue reading

Real-life crime thriller shines spotlight on fish poaching

catching the thunderReview: Vivien Horler

Catching the Thunder – the race to save our oceans from poachers and criminal kingpins, by Eskil Engdal & Kjetil Saeter (Tafelberg)

Patagonian toothfish is a deepsea delicacy often called “white gold”. It lives in icy waters near the Antarctic, in black depths of up to 2000m.

It was first caught and described at the end of the 19th century, and then forgotten until rediscovered in the 1980s. The Norwegian authors of this gripping real-life thriller say that served in US restaurants, it caused a gastronomic sensation. Continue reading

How Mozambique went from Portuguese colony to “complicated” independent country

mozambique history

mozambique history

Review: Myrna Robins

A Short History of Mozambique, by Malyn Newitt (Jonathan Ball Publishers)


Malyn Newitt, who has penned more than 20 books on Portugal and its colonial history, is one of the leading historians on the former colony and now independent Mozambique.

Presently retired, he was deputy vice chancellor of  Exeter University in the UK and – given his background – one expects his latest title to be academic in tone and content. Continue reading

Rugby ref becomes solo dad, with a little help here and there

winging itReview: Vivien Horler

Winging It: Jonathan Kaplan’s journey from world-class ref to rookie solo dad, by Joanne Jowell (Macmillan)

Cape Town writer Joanne Jowell was dimly aware of who Jonathan Kaplan was – the Green Point-based international rugby ref. Both she and he are Jewish, share acquaintances, and they’ve bumped into each other socially over the years.

But she’s not much of a rugby fan, and didn’t really know him. Continue reading

Kgalagadi book is fabulous as both coffee table volume and guide

kgalagadi coverReview: Vivien Horler

Kgalagadi Self-Drive – Routes, roads and ratings, by Ingrid van den Berg and Jaco Powell; with pictures by Philip & Ingrid van den Berg, Heinrich van den Berg & Jaco Powell (HPH Publishing)

In our daily lives we’re rarely less than a couple of metres away from other people. But there are places not all that far from here where you can feel as if you’re the only person in the world.

Or as publisher Heinrich van den Berg says in his preface to this magnificent book, during his first visit to the Kgalagadi aged 14, setting next to a termite mound in the heat of the day, he was struck for the first time in his life by a feeling of huge emptiness.

kgalagadi hunt

Snatching supper in the Kgalagadi

But it just feels empty, he says. “In the landscape of an unpeopled desert, in a kind of silence unknown elsewhere, and while experiencing deep solitude, if you sit quietly and patiently, amazing sights and sounds will be revealed.”

The old name Kalahari comes from the Setswana word kgalagadi, which refers to salt pans, or the place where the land has dried up, or a place of no water.

The Kgalgadi Transfrontier Park stretches from the north of the Northern Cape province into Continue reading

Cautionary tales from Britain’s National Health Service could have a lesson for us

your life in my handsReviews: Vivien Horler

Your Life in my Hands: A junior doctor’s story, by Rachel Clarke (Metro)

The Human Kind: A doctor’s stories from the heart of medicine, by Peter Dorward (Bloomsbury/ Jonathan Ball)


The two doctors at the centre of these books are both active in Britain’s National Health Service. Rachel Clarke is a “junior” hospital doctor in her late 30s based in London; Peter Dorward is a much older GP in Edinburgh.

human kindClarke’s book, which came out late last year, is perhaps the more political of the two. She worked as a current affairs TV journalist for around 10 years before training as a doctor, inspired partly by her doctor father to whom she dedicates this book.

I think that from the South African perspective we tend to think the NHS is a wonderful institution compared with the local public healthcare system. And of course in many ways it is.

But Clarke says from the medical staff’s point of view understaffing is at best exhausting and at worst soul destroying. Apart from the danger this exposes patients to, she says another casualty of doctor overstretch is the one that attracted them into medicine in the first place, “our kindness”. Continue reading

Man Booker International Prize shortlist


Works by writers from South Korea, Poland, Hungary, France, Spain and Iraq have been shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker International Prize.

Since 2016 this prize has been presented annually for a single work of fiction – either a novel or a collection of short stories – translated into English and published in the United Kingdom. It is not to be confused with the Man Booker prize, which is for fiction written in English and published in the UK. Continue reading

There’s no beating about the bush with this comprehensive guide

beat about the bushReview: Vivien Horler

Beat about the Bush – exploring the wild, by Trevor Carnaby (Jacana)

When my son was a small boy I explained to him that my Cape Argus colleague John Yeld was the environment reporter, which meant he knew all about the world.

A few days later I was puzzling over a problem. Thomas said: “Ask John Yeld.” Huh? Tom said: “Mom, you said John knows everything in the world”.

John is retired now, so if you need someone like him, Beat About the Bush is probably the book for you and anyone of a curious turn of mind, including small children. Continue reading