FICTION: The Fetch, Finuala Dowling

Finuala Dowling’s fourth novel is an elegant and elegiac love song to the wilder fringes of the Cape peninsula – its stormy seas and fragrant fynbos; and to the people who inhabit its edges. Dominating Slangkop (a fictional hamlet close to Kommetjie) is Midden House, where Chas Fawkes, a flamboyant journalist, decamps to on weekends. Neighbouring it are two flats, one inhabited by the mousy librarian, Nina, the other by Fundiswa, a distinguished public health expert, now retired. Nina spurns the advances of Will, the recycling-obsessed nature lover who lives in a nearby cottage;

instead – pining for excitement and romance – she gets swept into Chas’s exuberant world, intimately witnessing this charismatic figure’s brightest moments, as well as his dizzying fall. The Fetch has many layers and moods – there is hilarity, there is pain, and every emotional shade in between. Dowling is a sharp observer of social interactions and the complex, flawed personalities that shape them. Nuance and detail give this novel weight: she is masterful at etching in the shadows, the shifts, both ordinary and earth-shattering – painting a richly textured depiction of life and love.  Both gentle and utterly wrenching, this is a book that will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page.


MEMOIR: Land's Edge, Tim Winton

This slim volume – aptly subtitled “a coastal memoir” – by one of Australia’s foremost novelists, offers a series of memories, 
reflections and riffs. Each reveals Winton’s lifelong fascination with the sea and coastline, his reverence and respect for them, and offer a sense of how both have become deeply anchored within his life and literature.

Winton’s prose is barely short of extraordinary: sinuous and poised and richly descriptive, transporting you vividly to the Indian Ocean and windswept edge of Western Australia. You 
could complete this in one sitting, but it’s so good you’ll be rather disappointed to finish it so soon.


FICTION: The Keeper, Marguerite Poland 

The Keeper reveals how a beacon that illuminates also has the power to blind. Hannes Harker, a lighthouse keeper, is convalescing in a Port Elizabeth hospital after an accident. Sister Rika, a perceptive listener, melts his reserve, slowly teasing out his life story: these nighttime reminiscences shine a light on a marriage on the rocks – quite literally. Harker’s commitment to the lighthouse has been almost tyrannical:  a devotion that has made him lose sight of the needs of his headstrong wife, Aletta, who – finally tiring of smoking and dancing alone – abandons him for a life on the shore.  

Harker’s memories are deftly woven into a fascinating tapestry that shows the long shadows cast by childhood loss, and the haunting loneliness of island life. Seeped through with melancholy, this is a novel of liminal spaces — the edges between light and dark, sea and land, hope and despair. Poland explores the intersections between coloured guano workers and white lighthouse keepers, offering a finely nuanced study of race relations, of division, of power. Keenly researched, with painstakingly  wrought period elements, the prose occasionally feels too densely coiled with detail; often, though, there is exquisite eloquence.


PHOTOGRAPHY: South African Coasts

This visual feast – a collection compiled from a photographic competition organised by the Sustainable Seas Trust – celebrates our beautiful seashore. 
The sumptuous images are accompanied by several essays exploring the various facets of our coastline, from maritime conservation to sea kayaking.


PRUFROCK

From an encounter with a homeless relative in Sea Point to memories of matric rage, that lively literary journal Prufrock has done it again, with a sublime sea-themed issue stuffed with
poetry, fiction, reportage and more.


EXTRACT: This Day, Tiah Beautement

The Great White breeds here. Whales come with their young, breaching towards the clouds. Dolphins and seals routinely surf the waves amongst the people. This little spot by the dock may be no more than a pond, but if I drifted out through the gap I’d be in the wide open deep. ‘Don’t look that way, honey. Focus on the man waiting for you.’ The mouthpiece is fitted. Deep breath and I turn to the side; place both palms down on the dock.

One...
Two...
Three...

I flop in, heavy, graceless, water splashing across my mask and onto Erica’s feet. But she is standing there clapping anyway as I bob like a floundering sack, heart hammering away. A hand comes down on my shoulder. ‘Tip back!’ Erica yells, but the words are dulled by the respirator, even above water. I tilt, the heavy tank happy to pull me the rest of the way. There is a tug, then my bulk glides. 
Slows. Another tug. Glides. Slows. Above me is the clear November sky, watching. 

I’m doing it, I silently whisper to that faceless blue observer. We stop. I feel myself being released. A swirl around me. He is there, in front. He reaches out and takes something from my vest. Then he presses it into my hand. We’ve done this. I press when he tells me and we’ll sink. I’ve assured him I am happy to do this part. He gives me thumbs down. I give the okay. He takes up his own in his hand.

One…
Two…
Three…

We sink. For a moment I am alone. The loud noise thrumming in my ears, the light pushing through the cloudy murk that has closed over my head, saturated my hair. 
Breathe, Ella. Keep breathing. His hand finds mine and grips it tight.


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