I read Lynn's book first: the haunting and poignant Aunt Coco and the Marionette Man. This is the first half of my Amazon review:
"If I could give this book a sixth star I would. I didn't just love it. I absolutely adored it. It is just stunning. I will admit up front it has evoked all my feelings and memories of South Africa and its wonderful eclectic population. As a result, it has extra meaning for me personally. I could smell the baked African earth Lynn Moorhouse describes as it soaks up the first spring rain, feel the breeze rustling through Pretoria's famous Jacaranda trees, see the vivid canopy of its mauve blossom and hear the sound of the rain on the tin roof. All rich, vital sensory memories that overwhelmed me in waves of nostalgia.
But even without that, it is a beautifully written and finely crafted novel. It is also refreshingly different in style and approach. I love the way the story of Aunt Coco and her Marionette man emerges through different strands. We have the present day Elle dealing with widowhood when a friendship from her South African childhood with strong mutual connections from the past revives her - that and the re-discovered photos she took in her past life with an old Brownie camera. Then there are the letters from Aunt Coco, reminiscing about elements from her own past in South Africa and the conflicts emerging from what was then inappropriate friendships. And finally, we have Elle as a child experiencing the changes and tensions that affect her more than liberal family at a time when to even socialise with someone of colour could result in a prison terms."
As you can tell from what I have written, I really loved it for its finely crafted story, but also because it brought back so many memories and sensations of South Africa, a country whose sights, smells and sounds remain deeply embedded in my being and whose people are still, for me, the most vivid and hospitable souls I have yet to meet.
And so I was already there in spirit when I picked up Earl Moorhouse's Last Summer in Little England, another story set in South Africa, but this time told from the perspective of a little boy, in fact a little Earl, although I imagine some of the story must be fiction. Nevertheless, he writes of Little England, being the coastal town, Port Shepstone, in what was then the very English Natal - the last outpost of the British Empire as I remember people calling it when I lived there. Here is my review of Earl's book
"Goodness, I so enjoyed this book. Even though it's written from the perspective of a small boy, it is riveting reading. It's a bit like following the script of a nineteen fifties film. The only emotion in the book is observed and experienced by the narrator - a small boy, so it is a very special way of viewing things. His friend, Elliot, the Zulu handyman around the house, the Afrikaans girls and their mother next door, the old man who is building his boat: these are all character gems. The world in which they live is contained, a 'little England', but the threat of apartheid South Africa is moving in and you feel it throughout the book, especially in the violent outbursts of the 'stepfather', a figure who never has a name, but who is an erratic and often fearsome presence, damaged by both war and the anxiety of losing his job to Afrikaners. This is one of those special books about South Africa's darker days that remain with you. It is poignant, touching and rather sad, but at the same time, it is funny and quirky and typically South African. Thank you, Earl Moorhouse, for a very special read. I wish I could have a paperback of this as I'd cherish it along with Aunt Coco and the Marionette Man."
These two books have held me riveted to every page. They tell stories of life and love, often in a very humorous and candid way, but they both leave the reader in no doubt about the menacing cloud that was apartheid. They are books that reflect the underlying fears of the period disguised beneath a veneer of normality. As novels they are literary gems; as historical reflections they are important in evoking an accurate picture of what it was really like to live in South Africa at the beginning of the Apartheid period. Many many South Africans felt the cloud approaching but were helpless to stop it. Lynn and Earl have both captured that feeling in two very different, but wonderful books. For anyone who is interested in or knows South Africa both past and present, I can highly recommend them.