Monthly Archives: April 2020

If he hadn’t done it to me, he would have done it to someone

Review: Vivien Horler

Know My Name, by Chanel Miller (Viking/ Penguin)

We all do foolish things occasionally, and mostly we survive unscathed. But in January 2015 Chanel Miller, then aged 22, went to a party on the Stanford University campus in Palo Alto, California, drank too much and passed out.

This was the beginning of a three-year ordeal which upended her life, led to the recall of a judge and saw state law changed.

She woke up in hospital, half naked, with abrasions on her body, pine needles in her hair, and bruises to her groin. She was told by a police deputy that there was reason to believe she had been sexually assaulted.

She had no idea of the details until a couple of days later when she read a newspaper report of the arrest of a Stanford student, Brock Turner, on charges of rape and sexual assault. It appeared that he had been spotted by a pair of Swedish post-graduates “dry humping” a comatose woman. They shouted and Turner fled, only to be pinned down by the Swedes until the police arrived. Turner was later released on bail of $150 000 (about R2.85million at today’s rates).

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Surviving a bleak and desperate childhood

Review: Vivien Horler

A Childhood Made Up – Living with my mother’s madness, by Brent Meersman (Tafelberg)

Brent Meersman is an accomplished man and an accomplished writer. He is the co-editor of Ground Up, a news agency which has a particular interest in the rights of the vulnerable.

He’s the author of several books including the hilarious novel Primary Coloured, about a bossy coloured woman who launches a political party in Cape Town. Back in the day the founder of the Independent Democrats, Patricia de Lille, hired Meersman as the party’s CEO, and she told me: “He didn’t use people’s real names, but I’ve read it and most of the stories are true… In his shout on the cover Richard Calland said it was ‘remarkably authentic. It’s as if Meersman was actually there.’ Well, of course, he was.”

A Childhood Made Up is a different book entirely. In a piece in the Sunday Times he said he first wrote it as a novel, and only after that did he see his way to write this memoir of his childhood in a dysfunctional family in Milnerton in the 70s and 80s. Continue reading

Lightness in a time of plague

Review: Vivien Horler

Grown Ups, by Marian Keyes (Michael Joseph/ Penguin)

Marian Keyes is an acclaimed Irish novelist who bridles at the use of the term “chick lit” on the grounds that it is perjorative to both women writers and the books many women adore.

But the truth is that while exploring major human themes of betrayal and jealousy and love and reconciliation, her novels are somewhat light. They’re also charming and often funny, but you wouldn’t call them searing or particularly deep.

There is of course nothing wrong with this. There are times when one wants deep and searing, and times when one doesn’t. Summer holidays beside the pool are perfect times to read Marian Keyes.

And for many, a period of staying home in Covid-19 lockdown, when there is so little else to do, might also be a perfect time to read Marian Keyes. On the whole her books are cheerful, often uplifting, and have largely happy endings. Continue reading

Beware hubris – or how Thomas Cromwell was brought down

Review (part 2): Vivien Horler

The Mirror & the Light, by Hilary Mantel (4th Estate/ Jonathan Ball)

Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance) and Henry VIII (Damian Lewis) in the miniseries based on the first two volumes in the Wolf Hall trilogy.

There is something bizarrely prosaic about the Wikipedia entry for Thomas Cromwell.

“Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex, KG, PC was an English lawyer and statesman who served as chief minister to King Henry VIII of England from 1532 to 1540, when he was beheaded on orders of the king. Born: 1485, Putney, London. Died July 28, 1540, London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Cause of death: Decapitation.

Tower Hamlets? Well, it was certainly the Tower. Decapitation? That would do it.

And he wasn’t the actual first Earl of Essex – that honour went to Geoffrey de Mandeville, who died in 1144. His line went extinct, and in 1199 the title was recreated, with Geoffrey Fitzpeter becoming the 1st Earl of Essex. He died in 1213.

More than 200 years later one Henry Bourchier became 1st Earl of Essex, dying in 1483 and leaving the title of 2nd Earl of his son, also Henry, who died in 1540. He had no heir, and so Henry VIII recreated the title of 1st Earl for his trusted minister Thomas Cromwell, who kept it for just three months or so before he was beheaded.

There is still an earl of Essex, the 11th,  Paul de Vere Capell, born in 1944 . If I have read the family tree right – and I may not – he appears to have a cousin called Kevin.

At least Capell, a retired schoolmaster, and Kevin, are likely to keep their heads. There was no such certainty in Cromwell’s time, and he certainly helped made it possible for Henry VIII to execute many enemies and perceived heretics, as well as, famously, his second wife Anne Boleyn. Henry also had his fifth wife, Katherine Howard, beheaded, but that was nearly 18 months after Cromwell’s death and presumably cannot be laid at his door. Continue reading