Monthly Archives: December 2021

There’s a twist in the middle – but does it work?

Review: Vivien Horler

Wish You Were Here, by Jodi Picoult (Hodder & Stoughton)

Well, I dunno.  I was enjoying this novel until I got to about page 187 and then thought: “Oh for goodness sake.”

I can’t really say much more than that, because that would ruin things. But I was left feeling cheated.

Jodi Picoult is a prolific novelist, and during an interview at the Mount Nelson some years ago she told a group of book reviewers, including me, that she writes by seeing the unspooling of a story in her mind’s eye, rather like watching a video, and then writing it all down.

I’m sure it’s harder than that. She creates difficult, nearly impossible situations between people, and then works to resolve them. The riveting My Sister’s Keeper, for example, tells the story of a couple whose only child develops a terminal disease, and needs a bone marrow transplant.

The parents are told the best donor would be a sibling, so they deliberately have a second child whom they hope will be a match. And success – the little girl is a match. Until, around about the age of 12, the second daughter rebels. Feeling that she was brought into the world to provide spare parts, she announces she is no longer prepared to donate bone marrow cells to her sister, and goes to court against her parents.

But Wish You Were Here is not that novel. It is the first Covid-19 novel I’ve come across, and begins in Manhattan in March 2020 with a couple, Finn and Diana, about to go on holiday to the Galapagos, where Diana is expecting Finn will propose.

But Finn is a hospital doctor, and Covid cases start mounting alarmingly. The night before they are due to fly, Finn’s boss makes it clear that all hands are needed. Finn tells Diana she should go on her own, but he can’t join her.

And so, rather reluctantly, off she goes, eventually arriving on the tiny island of Isabela, not realising she is on the very last ferry in before the island closes for a fortnight.

Fast forward and Diana wakes in Finn’s hospital, having had a serious case of Covid which meant she needed to be on a ventilator. It soon becomes clear she is lucky to be alive, and must now start the long process of rehab, building up her strength and learning to cope again.

In the meantime she has lost her job with the art auctioneers Sotheby’s, as all the staff have been furloughed, and the relationship with Finn doesn’t seem to be as idyllic as before.

I read Wish You Were Here with interest, but I’m not sure Picoult really pulls it off. When you feel you’ve been cheated half way through, you never feel quite the same way about the novel again.

  • The Books Page is taking a brief break and will be back in the New Year. Season’s greetings to you all.


A real palm-sweating thriller

Review: Vivien Horler

Dark Flood, by Deon Meyer ( Hodder & Stoughton)

If I describe this detective thriller as something like Enid Blyton for grownups, I mean no disrespect towards Deon Meyer, one of South Africa’s best-selling authors.

I remember as an eight-year-old reading an adventure book by the British children’s author and my palms beginning to sweat as danger surrounded the hero.

This thriller is exciting, engaging, a good puzzle, and beautifully evokes the wonders of Stellenbosch, with its vineyards, white-gabled houses, and oak-lined streets.

And we’re back with old friends Hawks Captains Benny and Vaughn Cupido trying to do their best in a country drowning in crime and corruption. Continue reading

Never a dull moment for this cook

Review: Myrna Robins

A Sprig of Rosemarie, by Rosemarie Saunders (Print Matters Heritage)

Subtitled “A journey of culinary memories and recipes”, this gastronomic potpourri presents a medley of recipes, each accompanied by Saunders’s personal story of where the dishes were cooked and what occasion she was catering for.

Although this is a slim softback of just over 100 pages, it packs a fine variety of fare, ranging from timeless classics to her adaptations of French, Italian and the odd Greek dish. Thai favourites get a look-in and there’s a delicious story of how footwear was suggested as a design theme for tables of African banquets she was producing for embassy staff and dignatories in Addis Ababa…

Recipes do not list ingredients preceding method, but the two are combined which saves space. The ingredients are printed in bold, so home cooks can collect these quite easily before starting preparation. Continue reading

Shackleton: terror and courage on the ice

Shackleton – a biography, by Ranulph Fiennes (Michael Joseph)

A few years ago I had the enormous privilege of travelling to the Antarctic Peninsula from Ushuaia in Argentina. I had always wanted to go to the ice, and rather fancied the idea of over-wintering.

Well, my three weeks on a small cruise ship among islands and icebergs cured me of that notion. It was beautiful, wonderful to visit, to see king penguins and elephant seals, the glowing blue light of old icebergs, great craggy mountains streaked with ice, and even to have a glass of wine with a block of Antarctic ice in it.

But it was cold, the wind howled, and the idea of being in that place for three months of perpetual darkness appalled me. Continue reading