Book review: A thrilling ride into the darkness

2019-05-17 13:26

Circus by Irma Venter

Published by Human and Rousseau

Pages: 304

Price: R280

What actually went down in poor white homes in South Africa in the 1980s? If you were a young man, you were conscripted – no ifs or buts. But what about a young woman with no money, whose dad has just been murdered in front of her, whose mother is dependent on medication that she can’t afford and who has no prospects other than working as a waitress?

Without family money or a bursary (which was rather mysteriously rescinded) or even a job that pays proper money, Adriana van der Hoon’s options are limited. Except for one ... she could always take over her dad’s job, smuggling money into the country.

When we first meet Adriana, it is present-day Joburg. She is on the run from her past, helped along by a handful of loyal friends. But who are they and why are they so loyal?

And who is the mysterious, dangerous Viktor de Klerk who has her so spooked?

Chapter by chapter, we learn more about her, and her resilience and drive for independence in a world that seems more invested in stomping all over her than stretching out a hand.

We also see how one man’s quest for power can infect and destroy everyone around him. And we see how one man’s love can hold it all together.

Circus touches on numerous South African issues. Corruption is ever present. We get a glimpse of the underworld as we delve deeper into Viktor’s empire.

And no South African novel would be complete without elements of state capture as we realise how palms are greased.

There are aspects of the apartheid underbelly, where people were killed if they got in the way of the state’s agenda. And then there is ubuntu, friendship, loyalty and love.

Irma Venter has neatly sewn up all the elements of an exciting story into a 300-odd page parcel.

Before Circus came along, I was ready to give up on local thriller novels, having been quite exhausted by a recent spate of clumsy plots, incomplete sentences and lousy editing.

But Circus swoops in, beautifully translated, superbly written and intriguingly mapped out, ensuring that you can’t put it down. It’s been a long time since I’ve wanted to read to the end of a book to see who makes it out alive.

I have subsequently found out that Circus is part of a series of stand-alone novels, but this is the only one that has been translated into English.

Come on Human and Rousseau, you have at least one fan hanging on for more.

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August 18 2019