Monthly Archives: February 2021

Delicious legal gossip a feature of new account of the Jameson Raid

Review: Archie Henderson

Lawyers in Turmoil: The Johannesburg Conspiracy of 1895, by Owen Rogers (Stormberg)

The Jameson Raid of late 1895 was one of those seminal events that dramatically changes history. Even if not on the same global scale, think Pearl Harbour in 1942 or the Sarajevo assassination of 1914. The former brought the United States into World War 2, thus saving the democracies, and the latter brought most of Europe and all of the British Empire into World War 1.

The Jameson Raid was an early declaration of intention to wage war in South Africa in the late 19th century. It led to the Boer War – virtually South Africa’s white civil war – and set our history on a course from which it has still not quite escaped.

The raid, in its starkest terms, was the attempt by a multinational conglomerate (in this case Cecil John Rhodes’s mining interests) to usurp the sovereignty of an independent country. It was as if Exxon tried to take over Mozambique through naked military power to get at that country’s shale-gas riches (now threatened by a more shadowy force).

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Inspiration for shaded gardens


Inspiration for Shaded Gardens 

Review:  Myrna Robins

Gardening in the Shade in South Africa, by Allan Haschick (Struik Lifestyle)

Today, as many of us spend far more time at home than we used to before the onset of the Covid19 pandemic, interest in gardening has blossomed as never before, making this title extra-welcome.

This slim guidebook with its wealth of beautiful photographs is, by its very nature, a specialist title, fulfilling a need as most gardening books offer limited coverage of the subject of shade. South Africa, being the sunny country it is, means gardeners wrestle more with the problem of surplus sun rather than too little.

This compendium of solutions would have been so helpful during the decades we gardened on the slopes of Devil’s Peak  in Cape Town’s Newlands, where sun was patchy and disappeared behind the mountain all too early.

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On my Bedside Table for February

  • THESE are some of the titles that landed on my desk in the past few weeks. Not all have been read yet, and some will be reviewed in full. – Vivien Horler

Outlawed, by Anna North (Weidenfeld and Nicolson)

I opened this book about 90 minutes ago, am now on page 91, and am riveted. One shout on the cover describes it as something of a cross between The Handmaid’s Tale and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which seems unlikely but so far sounds about right. In a version of America in 1894, after the Great Flu and the collapse of the United States, Ada, 17, is married, but turns out to be barren. Amid allegations that she is a witch she flees, first to a convent and then to join a bunch of feminist outlaws in Colorado called the Hole in the Wall gang.



1986, by William Dicey (Umuzi)

In his author’s note on this crisp summary of the events of the pivotal year of 1986, William Dicey says he read Rian Malan’s My Traitor’s Heart a couple of years ago and was astonished to see Malan describe it as a watershed year in South African politics. Dicey was halfway through high school at Bishops at the time, and remembers the headmaster, John Peake, giving the prize-giving speech at the end of 1985. “…only a few kilometres from our gates, there is to be found a scene of nightmare, of burning, looting, murdering. A negation of education.” Dicey has drawn on newspaper articles, memoirs and stories to create “a compelling diary of a very bad year”. I loved Dicey’s earlier book Borderline, about a canoe trip down the Orange River, and much more besides.

The Four Winds, by Kristin Hannah (Macmillan)

It is Texas in 1934, and all is well in Elsa Martinelli’s world of family and farm on the Great Plains. But then the drought comes, and the Dust Bowl Era makes the Great Depression a hundred times worse. Her husband leaves, and she has to decide whether to take her children to California and a possibly better life, or stay and fight for the land. Delia Owens, author of the bestselling Where the Crawdads Sing, describes The Four Winds as “A timely novel highlighting the worth and delicate nature of Nature itself.” Kristina Hannah’s novel The Great Alone, about a family trying to make a life in unforgiving Alaska, was brilliant.


The Funny Thing about Norman Foreman, by Julietta Henderson (Bantam Press)

Norman Foreman and his friend Jax have a dream to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe when they’re 15. They’re a pair of wannabe stand-up comedians, and they’ve put up a poster of their five-year plan in Norman’s room. Jax says timing is everything, but then he goes and dies, which demonstrates pretty poor timing, Norman reckons. Norman’s single mother finds her heart breaking when she sees Norman’s revised plan, which is to look after her, try to find the dad he’s never known, and get to the Fringe to perform a one-night Jax tribute show. So Norman’s mum decides on a pilgrimage to Edinburgh, and on the way they’ll see if they can find Norman’s dad. This looks like a delightful read.

Three Women and a Boat, by Anne Youngson (Doubleday)

I’ve been on a number of narrowboat canal cruises in the UK which is a wonderful way to spend a slow week, so I couldn’t resist this novel. Anastasia, a narrowboat owner who is awaiting a life-saving operation, is joined on her boat by Eve, who has just left her 30-year career, and Sally, who has left her husband for a voyage through the English countryside. All three are vulnerable and the ups and downs of narrowboat life will draw them together – or drive them apart.



Life’s Not Yoga, or Is It? Finding love in the chaos of life, by Jacqui Burnett (Sophie Blue Press)

This is the non-fiction account of a troubled Cape Town teen who had a ghastly relationship with her awful father, a fraudster and a cheat. Later as an adult she goes to work for him, which turns out as badly as you might expect. There is a lot of detailed description, in capital letters, of their horrific shouting matches. Eventually, two failed marriages later, she goes to North America where I presume she reached the sunlit uplands referenced by the title of the book, but by that time I had been wearied by all the rage and had turned away.  (I was unable to download a cover picture to go with this entry.)


*All these titles – except Life’s Not Yoga – are among Exclusive Books’ 25 recommendations for February 2021.


The quest to revive Sissinghurst

Review: Vivien Horler

Sissinghurst – an unfinished history, by Adam Nicolson (HarperCollins)

Sissinghurst is probably best known as the celebrated garden in Kent created by Vita Sackville-West, former lover of Virginia Woolf and also of Violet Trefusis.
Vita and her husband, the British diplomat Sir Harold Nicholson, had a famously open marriage, which was chronicled by their son Nigel in his book Portrait of a Marriage.
Nigel’s son Adam is the author of this book about the glorious estate on which he grew up, and which, like many great estates in the United Kingdom, attracted crippling death duties when Vita died.
One solution was to hand the estate over to the National Trust, an organisation dedicated to heritage conservation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. But Vita, who had served on Trust committees, was vehement that the Trust would not take Sissinghurst in her lifetime. She wrote in her diary: “Never, never, never. … Nigel can do what he likes when I am dead, but as long as I live no Nat Trust or any other foreign body shall have my darling.”
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Unrelentingly miserable – and very, very good

Review: Vivien Horler

Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart (Picador)

I have a somewhat ambivalent attitude towards Booker Prize-winning novels. Some are marvelously readable, like Hilary Mantel’s two Thomas Cromwell novels (the third one was too, but it didn’t win the prize).

Then there are the more experimental novels, like George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo, or Anna Burns’s Milkman, in which none of the characters is named and of which one reviewer said: “told in an unspooling, digressive, and fretfully ruminative manner”.

Shuggie Bain is much more straightforward than those, and while author Douglas Stuart does use a certain amount of Glaswegian dialect, it is perfectly readable.

It’s also unrelentingly miserable, and very, very good.

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