Category Archives: Book News

Books to love in the month of romance

Vivien Horler

Wherever you go these days you see red balloons, hearts and chocolates – it’s looking very like the month of love.

And it doesn’t have to be love for a person – as a colleague quipped: “Oh books, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…”

Exclusive Books has seized the opportunity to mark Valentine’s Day on February 14 with a selection of books about love, from how to do it right, how to make your relationship deeper and more spiritual, to some jokey pun books.

And then of course there are always the shelves of love stories, and poetry, starting with Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s work which features her famous love sonnet, How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways, which celebrates her devotion to the poet Robert Browning.

In fact their Victorian love story, complete with an elopement, is worth rereading at this romantic time.

A self-help book that could keep your love on track is Jay Shetty’s 8 Rues of Love – How to find it, keep it, and let it go. He’s the author of the New York Times bestseller Think Like a Monk.

In his volume on the rules of love he draws on ancient wisdom and new sicence to lay out specific steps to help you develop the skills to be a better lover. Falling in love is wonderful, but long-term relationships are something else again. The guidelines from romance movies and pop culture aren’t really enough preparation for this – but Shetty’s advice might help introduce a little rigour to a subject swathed in pink clouds.


Another is Closer to Love by music producer Vex King, who has written a practical, emotional and spiritiual guide to more fulfilling love. Modern relationships might be complex, but we all still need love.






If you want to learn from example, Marisa Morea has written I Will Always Love You, a look at musical couples who have made love work.

If you fancy a giggle, you can’t go wrong with Olive You – Valentine Knock-Knock Jokes by Katy Hall.

And then there are two picture books that will tickle the fancy of young and old: Mr Men Little Miss Love Gift Book, featuring the iconic characters, and How to be Loved like Paddington by Michael Bond, which is full of quotes that capture the impact of one of the most loved characters in children’s literature.


Story of forgotten massacre wins Sunday Times non-fiction award

Vivien Horler

Cape Town writer Mignonne Breier has won the 2022 Sunday Times Literary Award for Non-Fiction for her searing book about a little-known massacre by police in East London’s Duncan Village almost 10 years before Sharpeville.

The book is Bloody Sunday: The nun, the Defiance Campaign and South Africa’s secret massacre, published by Tafelberg last year. (Read my 22021 review here: Uncovering the terrible truth of a secret massacre)

It describes the lead-up to the killings that took place at an ANC Youth League event in November 1952 and their devastating fall-out. The killings were never formally investigated.

The award, presented in partnership with Exclusive Books, was given to Breier in Johannesburg on October 27.

Tshidiso Moletsane won the fiction prize for Junx (Umuzi).

Continue reading

Sri Lankan writer wins 2022 Booker Prize

Vivien Horler

Sri Lankan writer Shehan Karunatilaka, who has won the 2022 Booker Prize for Fiction, may not be a prolific novelist, but he’s all quality.

His first novel, Chinaman, published in 2011, won the Commonwealth prize, the DSL and the Gratiaen prize, and was selected for the BBC and The Reading Agency’s Big Jubilee Read.

Now he has won the Booker with his second novel, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, which tells the story of a photographer who wakes up dead in 1990 in a sort of heavenly  visa office. Continue reading

Mea Culpa

The editor of The Books Page has been celebrating the arrival of her Australian family, which includes two very small boys. As a result of general bustle, not enough reading has been done to merit a book review. Services, as Eskom might say, will resume soon.

Happy reading and happy Easter!

Breaking news: SA’s Damon Galgut wins the Booker Prize

SOUTH African novelist and playwright Damon Galgut has won the 2021 Booker Prize for his novel The Promise.

This was announced at a ceremony at the BBC Radio Theatre in London on November 3. He wins £50 000 (about R1.04million).

The Promise is a family saga set on a smallholding in Pretoria – Galgut’s home town – and is told over 40 years through four family funerals. The story revolves around a promise made by the family matriarch to a domestic worker that she will be given title to the home she lives in.

Galgut was previously shortlisted for the Booker in 2003 for his novel The Good Doctor and in 2010 for In a Strange Room.

The other shortlisted authors were Americans Richard Powers for Bewilderment, Maggie Shipstead for her fabulous Great Circle, Patricia Lockwood for No One is Talking about This; Sri Lankan writer Anuk Arudpragasam for A Passage North, and British Somali writer Nadifa Mohamed for The Fortune Men.

Chair of the judges Maya Jasanoff described The Promise as a “tour de force”. “It combines an extraordinary story with rich themes – the history of the last 40 years in South Africa – in an incredibly well-wrought package.

“It manages to pull together the qualities of great storytelling, it has great ideas, it’s a book that has a lot to chew on, with remarkable attention to structure and literary style.”

Rebecca Jones, the BBC’s arts correspondent, describes The Promise as “an excellent winner” and “outstanding book”.

“On the one hand it is a gripping saga, following the decline and fall of a white South African family over four decades. It is packed with incident – sex, drugs, shootings – and there is drama, discord and death. But there is also plenty of unexpected comedy to lighten the mood. It made me laugh.

“On the other hand, through the lens of this one family, The Promise also deftly tells the story of South Africa and its troubled transition from apartheid state to multi-racial democracy. So it is rich with layers and yet it is compact, with fewer than 300 pages.”

I thought it was a very bleak tale.

Galgut becomes the third South African to win the prestigious fiction prize, after JM Coetzee (who won it twice, as well as the Nobel Prize for literature) and Nadine Gordimer.  – Vivien Horler 


Will it be third time lucky for Galgut in the 2021 Booker Prize?

Vivien Horler

South African literature still has a chance of snatching the 2021 Booker Prize for Fiction, with Damon Galgut’s The Promise making it on to the shortlist of six announced in London on Tuesday September 14.

This is the third time he has been shortlisted.

Sadly, Karen Jennings, the other South African writer who was on the longlist of 13 for her novel The Island, did not make the cut.

The other five books on the shortlist are: A Passage North, by Sri Lankan Tamil writer Anuk Arudpragasam; No One is Talking about This, by American writer and poet Patricia Lockwood; The Fortune Men by British Somali novelist Nadifa Mohamed; Bewilderment by American novelist Richard Powers; and Great Circle by American writer Maggie Shipstead.

Maya Jasanoff, chair of the 2021 judging panel, said: “With so many ambitious and intelligent books before us, the judges engaged in rich discussion not only about the qualities of any given title, but often the purpose of fiction itself. We are pleased to present a shortlist that delivers as wide a range of original stories as it does voices and styles.”

And Gaby Wood, director of the Booker Prize Foundation, said: “(The judges) also proved that the best literature is elastic: both because so many different things can be seen in it, and because – as one of the judges said – the best of fiction can make you feel as though your mind, or heart, are a little bit larger for having read it.”

The Promise (Chatto & Windus), which spans a period of 40 years, is about the white Swart family who live on a smallholding outside Pretoria and is trying to come to terms with the new South Africa. It is based around four family funerals, and describes how the family unravels over a promise made to their long-time domestic worker.

Galgut told a Booker Q& A: “I do feel qualified to say a few things about white South Africa by now. The Swart family is a kind of amalgamation of everything I grew up with in Pretoria, I guess. They’re a mix of English and Afrikaans, and a hodge-podge of creeds and beliefs too. Not unusual for this part of the world. But what makes them ‘representative’ isn’t their characters, it’s the times they’re living through. The book is structured around four funerals, each in a different decade, with a different president in power and a different spirit reigning over the land. Although most of that material is background, it conjures a sense of time passing and of the larger country changing too.”

The Passage North (Granta) is an attempt to come to terms with life in the wake of devastation of Sri Lanka’s 30-year civil war. It tells the story of Krishan who makes the long train journey from the capital Colombo into the war-torn Northern Province to attend a family funeral. This is Arudpragasam’s second novel.







No One is Talking About This (Bloomsbury Circus/ Jonathan Ball) is described as “a delightfully profane love letter to the infinite scroll, and a meditation on love, language, and the human connection.

It is about a social media guru who travels the world, her existence overwhelmed by the internet. And then two urgent messages from her mother pierce her virtual bubble.

Lockwood told a Booker Q & A: “The internet – in the form of social media, at least – is much more like fiction than it is anything else.”

The Fortune Men (Viking) is a gripping novel, based on fact, about a petty thief in Cardiff, Wales. In 1952 he became the last man to be hanged there, after being wrongfully convicted of murder. Mahmood Mattan, a Somali seaman, isn’t too worried when he is arrested for the murder of a local shopkeeper – after all, this is Britain which is a country of justice. But eventually it dawns on him that innocence may not be enough.

His conviction was quashed 45 years later, in February 1998 – a true Pyrrhic victory.

Mohamed told a Booker  Q & A: “I knew I wanted to make the line between fact and fiction inperceptible.” This is her third novel. She becomes the first British Somali to be shortlisted for the Booker.

Bewilderment (Hutchinson Heinmann) tells the story of an astrobiologist, Theo Byrne, and his troubled son, nine-year-old Robin, who is about to be expelled from school for smashing a metal Thermos into his friend’s face. His father believes the only thing to do is take Robin to other planets, while helping him to save this one.

Powers told a Booker Q & A: “The astrobiology and neuroscience in Bewilderment – two fields undergoing rapid and dramatic revolutions – are really ways into much older and more intimate human passions.”

This book is Powers’s 13th novel and the second to be shortlisted for the Booker prize.

Great Circle (Transworld) is the story of a daredevil woman pilot who delivers Spitfires in World War II and in 1950 sets off on an ultimately doomed north-south circumnavigation of the Earth. And it is the story of a spoiled young actress who is chosen to play her in a Hollywood biopic.

In a Booker Q & A, Shipstead said: “I’m sadly incapable of planning my books. I wish I could, but instead I just have to leap and then hope I’m able to resolve all the problems I create.” Great Circle is her third novel.

The winner of the 2021 Booker Prize for Fiction will be announced in London on November 3.


Two SA authors make the longlist of the 2021 Booker Prize for Fiction


Vivien Horler

South African writers Damon Galgut and Karen Jennings are among the 13 international authors whose novels have been longlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize for Fiction – Galgut for the third time.

This time it is for his novel The Promise, about the Swart family who live on a hardscrabble smallholding outside Pretoria, and whose story is told over 40 years in a series of snapshots, each one surrounding a family funeral.

At the heart of the story – and the family conflict – is a promise made to a domestic worker that she would get title to the house she lives in.

Galgut’s two previous longlisted titles were The Good Doctor (2006) and In a Strange Room (2010).

Jennings’s book is called An Island, and is about Samuel, a lighthouse keeper on an island off the southern African coast. One day a young man, probably a refugee, washes ashore and Samuel reluctantly takes him in. Their interaction forces Samuel to look back over his own life. Local author Joanne Hichens has described An Island as “a terrifying novel”.

Historian Maya Jasanoff, chair of the judging panel, said: “‘One thing that unites these books is their power to absorb the reader in an unusual story, and to do so in an artful, distinctive voice. Many of them consider how people grapple with the past – whether personal experiences of grief or dislocation or the historical legacies of enslavement, apartheid, and civil war.

“Many examine intimate relationships placed under stress, and through them meditate on ideas of freedom and obligation, or on what makes us human. “It’s particularly resonant during the pandemic to note that all of these books have important things to say about the nature of community, from the tiny and secluded to the unmeasurable expanse of cyberspace.

“Reading in lockdown fostered a powerful sense of connection with the books, and of shared enterprise among the judges. Though we didn’t always respond in the same way to an author’s choices, every book on this list sparked long discussions amongst ourselves that led in unexpected and enlightening directions.”

The longlist was chosen from 158 novels published in the UK or Ireland between October 2020 and September 2021. The Booker is open to writers of any nationality, writing in English and published in the UK or Ireland.

Apart from Jasanoff, the judges were writer and editor Horatia Harrod, actor Natascha McElhone, twice Booker-shortlisted novelist and professor Chigozie Obioma, and writer and former archbishop Rowan Williams.

Other longlisted authors who have made the list before, other than Galgut, are Kazuo Ishiguro (won in 1989 for The Remains of the Day; shortlisted in 2005 for Never Let Me Go, in 2000 for When we were Orphans and in 1986 for An Artist of the Floating World); Mary Lawson (longlisted in 2006 for The Other Side of the Bridge); Richard Powers (shortlisted in 2018 for The Overstory and longlisted in 2014 for Orfeo); and Sunjeev Sahota (shortlisted in 2015 for The Year of the Runaways).

Two debut novelists made the list: Nathan Harris with The Sweetness of Water and Patricia Lockwood with No One is Talking About This. 

The six books on the shortlist will be announced on September, and each author will wina total of  £2 500 (about R51 000).

The overall winner will get their prize at an award ceremony on November 3. They win £50 000 (about R1.02million), and in the po-faced words of the judges, “can expect international recognition”.

The full list of 13 novels is:

Continue reading

Zimbabwean activist and writer makes Booker 2020 shortlist

Vivien Horler

Tsitsi Dangarembga

So Hilary Mantel is not going to make history by winning the Booker Prize three times.

I’m a bit disappointed – I thought all three novels about Thomas Cromwell: Wolf  Hall, Bring Up the Bodies and The Mirror & the Light, were absorbing, often terrifying and utterly brilliant.

Not even to get on to the shortlist for the 2020 Booker! I think she wuz robbed.

But thriller writer Lee Child, who was on the panel of judges, was quoted in The Guardian saying of The Mirror & the Light: “It is an absolutely wonderful novel, there’s no question about it. It’s a trilogy which will live forever. But as good as it was, there were some books which were better.”

Another two international novelists whose books failed to make the cut were Anne Tyler with Redhead by the Side of the Road, and Colum McCann for Apeirogon.

But closer to home, acclaimed Zimbabwean writer and activist Tsitsi Dangarembga is in with a chance to win the prize for her for This Mournable Body.  This is the third in a trilogy which includes Nervous Conditions (1988), named by the BBC as one of the 100 books that shaped the world, and The Book of Not, published in 2006. Continue reading

Learning to write – 200 words at a time

Vivien Horler

Mike Nicol

I have to write 200 words of description for my assignment for my writing course this week.

“Imagine that sunset that stunned you or catching a wave on an early morning surf or a tense hang-gliding moment, or an afternoon at a waterhole in the bush …” instructs Mike Nicol, top SA crime writer, biographer and memoir-writer who is running the course.

“Or something completely different: describe entering a foreign city for the first time; or moving into a new home; arriving at a holiday destination.”

In 200 words? It’s not easy. But it’s not meant to be.

In fact I have an MA in creative writing, and my thesis scored good marks, so why am I doing Mike’s course on Writing Reality – essentially narrative non-fiction writing?

Because as a friend briskly pointed out, a thesis is not a book. So I’ve been hoping to learn some skills, how to round out what I’ve written, how to make it live and breathe and connect to the reader. Continue reading

Can Hilary Mantel make it a hat trick?


Vivien Horler

Can Hilary Mantel make history and be the first writer to win the Booker Prize for a third time?

The longlist of 13 novels in English was announced this week.

The third in Mantel’s riveting trilogy about Henry VIII’s chancellor Thomas Cromwell, The Mirror and the Light, follows Wolf Hall, which won the prize in 2009, and Bring Up the Bodies, which won in 2012.

The Mirror and the Light takes the saga from the time of Anne Boleyn’s execution in 1536 to Cromwell’s own just four years later.

Only a handful of writers have won the Booker twice, including South African JM Coetzee, Margaret Atwood and Peter Carey.

Of the 13 titles on the list, more than half are debut novels, but another favourite to make the cut is the American writer Anne Tyler with her Redhead by the Side of the Road.

The final book in another trilogy, by the Zimbabwean writer Tsitsi Dangarembga, This Mournable Body, also made the longlist. The two previous novels are Nervous Conditions (1988), named by the BBC as one of the 100 books that shaped the world, and The Book of Not, published in 2006.

The Guardian reports: “Award-winning Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga is in the running for This Mournable Body, a sequel to her 1988 novel Nervous Conditions, named by the BBC as one of the 100 books that shaped the world. Judges said This Mournable Body ‘drew an immediate reaction like a sharp intake of breath from all of us on the panel’.”

Margaret Busby, chair of the 2020 panel of judges, said of the longlist:  “Each of these books carries an impact that has earned it a place on the longlist, deserving of wide readership. There are voices from minorities often unheard, stories that are fresh, bold and absorbing.

“The best fiction enables the reader to relate to other people’s lives; sharing experiences that we could not ourselves have imagined is as powerful as being able to identify with characters.

“As judges we connected with these writers’ well-crafted prose, the mastery of detail, the arresting sentence, the credibility of the narrative arc, the ability to use to the full, the resources of storytelling. Unplanned, our final selection encompasses both seasoned favourites and debut talents – a truly satisfying outcome.”


The full list is:

  • The New Wilderness by Diane Cook (Oneworld Publications)
  • This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga (Faber & Faber)
  • Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House)
  • Who They Was by Gabriel Krauze (4th Estate, HarperCollins)
  • The Mirror & The Light by Hilary Mantel (4th Estate, HarperCollins)
  • Apeirogon by Colum McCan (Bloomsbury Publishing)
  • The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste (Canongate Books)
  • Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid (Bloomsbury Circus, Bloomsbury Publishing)
  • Real Life by Brandon Taylor (Originals, Daunt Books Publishing)
  • Redhead by The Side of The Road by Anne Tyler (Chatto & Windus, Vintage)
  • Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (Picador, Pan Macmillan)
  • Love and Other Thought Experiments by Sophie Ward (Corsair, Little, Brown)
  • How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang (Virago, Little, Brown)

The shortlist of six books will be announced on September 15, and each author will receive £2 500 (about R46 000). The 2020 winner will be announced in November and wins £50 000 (just over R1million.

  • On Friday (July 31) British writer and broadcaster Joe Haddow will host a podcast discussion of the longlist with some of the judges. It will be available on SpotifyiTunesSoundCloudEntaleDeezerand Stitcher.