Wednesday, 9 April 2008

My Orange Prize Review #3 The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam

“The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam” is Lauren Liebenberg’s first novel.

Nyree and Cia O’Callohan live at Modjadhi, a farm in the shadow of the Vumba mountains in the 1970s, the last days of Rhodesia before it became Zimbabwe. The land around was cultivated by the “blood, sweat and tears” of their great grandfather, a heritage that their Grandfather, Oupa reminds them of daily in his sermons about the dereliction of duty and the importance of pride.

The war between Mugabe’s ZANU party and the Ndebele opposition goes on in the background, insignificant compared to the pressures of fitting in with the townies, and games of dare with Dell and the other members of the “Dogs of War”. Whilst their father is away fighting the “Terrs”, Nyree and Cia carry on an everyday life of play and chores with their Mother, Oupa and Jobe, an Ndebele who works in their house.

That is until “the bastard” cousin Ronin arrives like a cuckoo in the nest, damaged, parasitical and treacherous, to undermine the fragile harmony of life on the farm.

From reading the blurb of the book I thought I was going to be captivated by a magical blend of African pagan mysticism and Christian ritual. I didn’t get what I was expecting, but what I got was probably truer to Nyree and Cia. They are children and 4th generation Africans, so the culture and the turmoil of their country is like so much wallpaper. This is a tale set in Africa, not a tale of Africa. The real story is what happens within the small world of the O’Callohan farm.

Liebenberg writes in an easy and evocative style, and the story develops quickly in the second half, making “The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam” a satisfying read.

I have to confess though that I feel mislead by the title and blurb of the novel. Although this story engaged me and moved me, it didn’t quite live up to expectations. With powerful benchmarks like Nadine Gordimer’s “The Conservationist”, Adichie’s “Purple Hibiscus” and Lewis Desoto’s “A Blade of Grass” perhaps it was too much too ask. So I’m moving it from 2nd in my Orange Prize Chart to 4th.

This is Lauren Liebenberg’s first novel, and is available in the UK direct from the publisher Virago.

Updated predictions for the Orange Prize in order of which books I think I'm going to like best

1. Elif Shafak - The Bastard of Istanbul
2. Dalia Sofer - The Septembers of Shiraz
4. Lauren Liebenberg - The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam
5. Gail Jones - Sorry
6. Linda Grant - The Clothes on Their Backs
7. Heather O'Neill - Lullabies for Little Criminals
8. Anita Amirrezvani - The Blood of Flowers
9. Nancy Huston - Fault Lines
10. Deborah Moggach - In The Dark
12. Patricia Wood - Lottery
13. Charlotte Mendelson - When We Were Bad
14. Carol Topolski - Monster Love
15. Anita Nair - Mistress
16. Stella Duffy - The Room of Lost Things
17. Sadie Jones - The Outcast
18. Jennifer Egan - The Keep
19. Scarlett Thomas - The End of Mr. Y
20. Tessa Hadley - The Master Bedroom

1 comment:

Wendy said...

This is one I'll probably put on my wish list - it sounds worthwhile, although maybe not the best book in the world (and what would the best book in the world be!?!?!?)

By the way, Sonia, your link from the Orange Prize Project takes readers to your first review for the prizes, not this one :) Just thought I'd let you know so you could fix it!