Category Archives: Reviews

Sue de Groot, Sunday Times Lifestyle

Women are at their most heroic when protecting their families from harm. But they also have their own identities to forge, and this can clash with familial duty.

Anne Perceval, the hero of Jenny Hobbs’s eighth novel, is ferociously caring as well as ambitious. This warring combination drives a story that begins with Anne’s South African childhood in the 1950s. She meets Doug at university in the ‘60s, a time when women’s horizons were broadening but marriage was still the Done Thing. They marry, move to England, get work, have children, and, after the dismantling of apartheid, move back to South Africa.

During their time in the UK, Doug is a corporate drone whose thwarted hopes and stints of unemployment lead to crippling depression. Meanwhile Anne, under the pen name Annie Butterfield, becomes the most popular food writer and agony aunt of her day.

The compassionate advice Annie dispenses to others lets her down when it comes to her own relationships. The glue of the title refers to an unwavering belief in love, but love can be a difficult beast.

Not that Hobbs is always pondering matters of the heart. The changing role of women in society and the evolution of the media are told through domestic minutiae that become moments of high entertainment.

The world of women’s magazines and the vying demands of career and family are subjects Hobbs knows well. She also has a fine ear for dialogue. Strong supporting characters leap off the page, particularly the housekeepers Euphemia, a queenly Ghanaian who gives marital advice (“Go away next weekend. Make some love”), and the former MI6 spy Budgie, who describes her shortcomings as: “Prone to foul language. Won’t get dressed up. Can’t swim, so shit-scared of rivers.”

There are some very funny scenes and a lot of sex, some of which is also very funny. Anne is a flawed hero often blind to her own faults, but she is written with a warm honesty that makes the reader cheer for her at every turn. The same goes for the rest of the cast. Hobbs’s characters are so real that one can’t help wondering if this book is in some ways autobiographical.

It isn’t. Hobbs, who lives in Franschhoek and recently stepped down as director of the town’s annual literary festival, says: “The trouble with writing novels is that readers always think you’re talking about yourself, and while the timeline and contemporary memories are more or less mine, all the characters are imagined. Budgie just walked into the story and made herself at home, cussing blue murder all the way. I have no idea where she came from, but she grew and grew.”

The power of Hobbs’s tale has nothing to do with its social or geographical location. It cuts to the heart of every woman’s struggle to be whole in a universe intent on fragmenting her, leaving the reader tearful and satisfied while wishing it had gone on longer.

Some critics may question the relevance of a novel about a white South African woman who lives, despite her emotional travails, in a bubble of middle-class privilege. They might as well call Jane Austen irrelevant because no one goes to balls any more.

True Blue Superglue follows their lives from big-dreaming students to strung-out parents to a couple at the end of their tether. It is a love story with a sting in its tale that moves from South Africa to swinging London and back home again. Witty and poignant, Jenny Hobbs’s novel is also a tribute to a life lived as a woman in changing times.

Dr Jean Branford, Rhodes University (letter to Darling)

My colleagues and I regard Blossom as a most acute linguistic observer and draw heavily upon her work for source material for A Dictionary of South African English, and for illustrative material for dialectology of first year and more senior levels.  I understand her work is also used by students of speech and drama. She is a first class exponent of the South African idiom and only those whom her cap fits uncomfortably tightly could carp at her humour. Blossom’s inventiveness, expertise and mastery of the dialect she portrays command my very real admiration and are a source of endless pleasure.

Prof Lucy Wagstaff, Wits University (letter)

As you know I have been a keen supporter and admirer of your very useful book.  I have recently gone through it again with a view to recommending it to the Wits students in the Early Childhood Enrichment Development course being run by the Department of Specialised Education. These are pre-school educators whose field of activity will be particularly with disadvantaged communities. Your book will of course be of great assistance to them…  Again I would congratulate and thank you for this very excellent publication.

Dr Andrew Truscott (letter)

Many thanks for the excellent book!  I like the pictures and the writing, which is simple and clear and accurate and technically correct.  I think the subjects you covered are relevant especially to the Black community, e.g. the aspects of teargas and bullet wounds, and feel that you have produced a book which achieves the aims you mentioned.

James Clark in The Star

I have before me a hilarious book … written by two very respectable authors. They are Tim Couzens, a Wits professor of literary history, and Jenny Hobbs, a bestselling novelist who lives in Bryanston. Pees & Queues is, I am sure, the world’s first anthology of lavatorial literature. It is filled with fun and fascination – and party-stoppers. 

Bindeshwar Patak, Sulabh International Social Service Organisation, India (Letter)

It was wonderful to receive your delightful book, which I propose to put in our library. The anecdotes – so liberally sprinkled throughout the book – make it even more interesting. I am certain your work will turn out to be a must-read for all those doing research… We have so much to learn and practice in our efforts to make our world a healthier place to live in.

Etienne van Heerden, Die Volksblad

Van alle vakmanne skoenmakers, chirurge, prokureurs of werktuigkundiges is skrywers diegene wat die meeste te kwyt het oor praktyk. Die skryfbedryf is klaarblyklik besonder aanskoulik skrywers voer hul lering op, en kam dit weer af; bieg en lieg; gee raad en sug. En daar’s mense wat wil luister. Daarom is Jenny Hobbs se Paper Prophets: A treasury of quotations about writers and writing so ‘n oulike geskenkboek. Wanneer jy dié boek met sy honderde aanhalings lees, staan jy verwonderd oor die sêvermoë van diegene wat die pen en dikwels áán die pen ry.

Shaun de Waal, Mail & Guardian

Author Jenny Hobbs has collected a vast hoard of quotations from writers on every aspect of writing, from deep questions about the roots of creativity to practicalities such as doing it by hand versus typing, or stratagems to get started. The range of opinions expressed is as wide as the spread of those quoted. The emphasis is on information, providing glimpses into the writing process, and there are many gems.

Heather Mackie, Business Day

Jenny Hobbs’s commonplace book is a phenomenon of modern English which dates back to the 17th century. It is also a glorious indulgence… Hobbs has collected favourite quotes from favourite authors on the subject of writing and arranged them in broad categories. They range from the gnomic to the superficial, which are generally more fun. This will be as invaluable as Roget’s Thesaurus for after-dinner speakers, or bedside reading, or even writer stuck in a cul-de-sac and looking for a quote. Anyone who scribbles a little – whether for love, for a friends, or for money – should reserve shelf space for both these companions.

Dr Cecile Cilliers, Beeld

Jenny Hobbs, romanskrywer, is die samesteller van hierdie aanhalingsboek wat te make het met skrywers en skryfwerk. Dis ‘n moei boek om op te neem, die aanbieding is interessant, die lettertipe goed leesbaar… Die onderafdelings is so slim gekies, die enorm hoeveelheid stof so goed onder beheer, en daar word so ‘n weelde van interessanthede aangebied, dat enige geesdriftige leser plesier aan die boek sal hê.

Hennie Aucamp, Die Burger

Aanhalingsboeke oor die kunste is vry algemeen in die buiteland, maar selfs dáár is ‘n aanhalingsboek gewy net aan skrywers en die skryfkuns ‘n rariteit. Dis merkwaardig dat juis só ‘n boek hier verskyn – op die koop toe so uitgebreid en versorg dat dit onmiddelik pleit om internasionale verspreiding. Jenny Hobbs, skryfster, is die samesteller, en te oordeel na 328 bladsye aanhalings, is die totale omvang van die skryfbedryf by haar ‘n “magnificent obsession”. Hobbs rubriseer die inhoud van haar bloemlesing; ‘n groot lesergerief.

Jonathan Amid, Litnet

Jenny Hobbs has a knack for telling stories that are both stylistically impressive and eminently enjoyable. Her latest work, Napoleon Bones, a biting and clever crime thriller, manages to entertain as well as subvert expectations. For starters, our narrator and crime-fighter-in-chief is no ordinary man. He’s no man at all, but a protective, faithful, affectionate police dog, part of the Western Cape K9 Unit, one half of Team A-R. Napoleon Bones is the trusty partner in crime to Inspector Rusty Gordon. While Bones has great game with the ladies and instincts sharper than a Toledo dagger, he cannot say the same for the tongue-tied attempts at flirtation of his master, whom he desperately wants to see happy with a partner. Gordon, however, is every bit the kind of SAPS member you want to have your back: resourceful, fit and tough, and the pair make a mean team on the beat.

The chief thorn in their sides is a mysterious group known as the Blackjacks, thieves armed with knives and wearing balaclavas… Gordon and Bones must crack the case, with help mainly from Gordon’s close friend and colleague, Spike Davids. Apart from consistent references to the ways and plays of the crime novel itself … this self-reflexive novel is comparable to more humorous crime fare. While Rusty Gordon is the novel’s centre of gravity, Hobbs has a ball with Bones, imbuing his character with wit, charm, and some decidedly tongue-in-cheek animal magnetism. As he relates his prowess as both gourmet and gritty law enforcer, it is impossible not to sit back and bask in the sheer exuberance and enthusiasm of the writing. In reference to Bones and his olfactory capabilities, some parts of the novel come across as a localised play on Patrick Suskind’s Perfume, set in France, without the sinister thematic arc…

Napoleon Bones is commendable for its willingness to balance its light with just enough shade. Darker, more dramatic elements, such as corruption, xenophobia, stereotyping, the abuse of women and animals and patriarchy, blend seamlessly into the narrative, giving the text weight it would not have had as all-out farce… Hobbs genuinely seems to like her main characters, which goes a long way to making them accessible. 

I am willing to venture that readers with a taste for offbeat, hearty local fare will find much to savour here, and will want to read more from a prolific author with unmistakeable verve and vision.

Jennifer Crocker, Cape Times

Hobbs is the author of one of SA’s seminal novels of the apartheid era, and the force behind the Franschhoek Literary Festival. In Napoleon Bones, she takes her skills in a different direction with a delightfully funny and touching story told through the eyes of police dog Napoleon Bones. Bones and his handler, Inspector Rusty Gordon, start out together in the K9 Unit. They have to crack a number of cases, and out in some real drudge work at the same time.

Hobbs has pulled together a story that is both delightful and insightful. By using the voice of Napoleon Bones she manages to address some of the big crime issues facing Cape Town. Well plotted and fantastically readable, this one will melt your heart a little at times, and chill your bones at others.

Jonathan Amid, Litnet

The vicissitudes of living in South Africa are fertile ground for novelists to excavate and examine particular aspects of our society. Replete with the hyperbole, exaggeration and embellishment, satire is one such form, a Janus-faced animal animated by the impulse to contort and distort, ever ready also to illuminate truth and understanding.

Contingently, The Miracle of Crocodile Flats by local author Jenny Hobbs hits the shelves marketed as “an affectionate satire”. With the sighting of a brown-skinned Virgin Mary in a small South African village as its starting point, Hobbs offers readers some cascading, character-driven impressions. It is a vision of ourselves in a post-apartheid moment, both lovely and laced with bite, casting its focus on two main areas: religion and race. The fault lines between these two focal points in the novel emerge slowly and organically after Hobbs observes the pathos, disillusionment and entrenched suffering of a small village. The people of Crocodile Flats are in dire need of something to lift their spirits – and a vision of pious purity and pure piety by a young girl is just the ticket.

A miracle is generally accepted, particularly in the religious sense of the word, to denote a wonder or marvel, a vision or sensation of that deemed impossible. The “miracle” here is the sighting of Ma-Jesu – the Virgin Mary, African, benevolent, smiling and smelling of peach blossom and vanilla cupcakes – by the fourteen-year-old Sweetness Moloi. Soon after the sighting, a multitude of attention-seeking, money-grubbing and self-serving characters from all over the world envelopes the poverty-stricken rural community of Crocodile Flats. Chief among these shady specimens are the entrepreneurial prophet Hallelujah of the Correct Baptised God Come Down in Africa Church. And is he not amusing!

It is one thing to peddle ready-made, hand-me-down stereotypes of small town life and to pass it off as “satire”, something else entirely to dig deeper, to draw from the well of the familiar to present a portrait of characters in motion, responding to their surroundings in ways that are true and exact. As such, Hobbs is adept at drawing out the more ridiculous, facile and hypocritical behaviour of the various “pilgrims”: she lands more than a few telling blows when examining the underbelly of formalised religion. Here the satire is superficially playful, but emphatic, forceful.

Additionally, Hobbs includes just about every type and manner of particularly South African identities here. It is through her expertly rendered, imminently poignant characterisation of the local inhabitants that the “affectionate satire” comes most strongly to the fore. Come the conclusion, the end result of the vision Sweetness has is largely predictable: readers will be well prepared for the resolutely exultant end section of the novel, in which every little loose end is tied up and gift-wrapped, and everyone gets their moment in the sun… While this well-written portrait is an unashamedly feel-good read, making satire “affectionate” is no mean feat, and The Miracle of Crocodile Flats delivers on its promise.

Betty Govinden, Sunday Independent

As you can guess, Jenny Hobbs’s The Miracle of Crocodile Flats is a riot of a tale – a comic, down-to-earth, light-hearted, yet serious look at SA oddities and foibles in particular, and at ideological and institutional anomalies and inconsistencies in general. Her new offering avoids some of the staples of SA writing. As she notes, “The many and diverse characters in the book are ordinary S Africans: no anguished lefties, no tortured cops, no irritating geeks, no earth mothers, no exiles yearning from afar, no bling divas, and only a brief mention of hijackers.”

Jenny de Klerk, The Star

This is a hoot of a book, warm, witty with a gentle chuckle of recognition and humour on just about every page. It’s a feel-good tale with an ending you only wish could be true. At first sight there is not much room for laughter in Crocodile Flats. It’s the town that everyone, including the government, forgot. Then Sweetness Moloi saw a vision on her way home from school… The news spread, the world erupted, the world descended, the world changed – and so did Crocodile Flats and all its wry funny characters. Again and again you stop to laugh as the contradictions and contrasts of this crazy, mixed-up, glorious country of ours are held up in a few well-chosen words… As the foreword says, “The rainbow nation was back in the world news, wearing a halo.”  I laughed my way through this book. It’s an absolute gem.

Michael Shafto, Port Elizabeth Express

This is a remarkable book from a remarkable writer. Jenny Hobbs is our Anne Tyler, though with a cutting edge somewhat more jagged, less forgiving. She’s our Dickens, too – think Pickwick Papers, its vast cast of characters… Hobbs, who with this offering has written six novels almost without putting a foot wrong, takes an actual event – an alleged sighting several years ago of the Virgin Mary in rural S Africa by a young black girl – and builds her tale around it. Tatty Crocodile Flats is populated by a poor rural community subject to all the ingredients that make S African dorps so unique. The village is coming apart at the seams. It is peopled by the poor, blacks and whites living by their wits… Novelist Hobbs manages somehow to orchestrate many disparate strands, smoothly moulding them into a satisfying melodious whole. The beautify of it is the way she serves it up – so utterly, unapologetically S’African.

Ruth Browne, Cape Times

A flat, thirsty plain, a worn old road and the fungi of huddled shacks: this is Jenny Hobbs’s Crocodile Flats, a town gone septic in its failing years. Traditional chieftains and barricaded Voortrekker families eye each other over contested land and the two thriving institutions are the church and the bottle store… Through the shebeens, shops and taxi ranks wind a succession of characters united in a despair that is communal and personal… Filtered through so many lives, the story takes on a Dickensian depth…  a speaking, breathing rural town full of real people. The theme, a community shaken to rediscover its soul, is joyfully ubiquitous… Proclaiming itself “an affectionate satire”, Crocodile Flats accretes like an elaborate shell around the secret warmth of a vision…  Perhaps S Africa needs stories like these that train us to realise what real reconciliation could look like… Hobbs’s deft hand with SA preoccupations and dialects makes this a good and satisfying read.

Charlotte van Zyl, Franschhoek Tatler

One of the outstanding qualities of this book is the pitch-perfect ear that Jenny Hobbs has for Seffrican English, especially that of generations ago…  Another quality is the way she has re-created, possibly even rescued, memories of a way of life that has been overtaken by the winds of change since 1945… A third wonderful feature of the book is the Pat Barker-like sympathy that she feels for men who went to war as boys and came back as broken men. These men were a race apart. “The men who did not – or could not – join up would never understand the current that sparked between those who had gone to war, even among the captured who had sat in POW camps out of the action.” But the price of glory was high, maybe too high… This is a thoughtful, beautifully written book.

Di Paice, Femina

This is a gentle story about love across the colour bar, where the bitter young ANC revolutionary learns that it is permissible to love a beautiful blonde girl, and her parents learn that it is essential to compromise. The author maintains a degree of tension with a clever stylistic exercise that has the past and the present alternating, building up to the symbolic climax of a funeral paralleling a wedding.

Jane Rosenthal, Mail & Guardian

In choosing the wryly un-PC title Kitchen Boy for her latest novel, Jenny Hobbs is clearly aware of the resonances of colonial terminology and the shades of war in a name so similar to Kitchener, and though it has an ironic side it is also a neat encapsulation of the themes of her story. Her protagonist is JJ Kitching, whose name has been affectionately mangled by adoring rugby fans shouting him on as a Springbok wing; so, far from being a male house servant, he was one of the (extremely) privileged for whom the highlights were war and rugby. Hobbs explores all this at JJ’s funeral through the many eulogies delivered and the memories of his friends and family…

Most S African families have been touched by war, often having to grapple not only with its intrinsic horrors but also the tough differences of opinion that arise within and between generations regarding such notions as duty, service to the nation and “a just war”… Hobbs touches on these issues, but presents a largely sympathetic portrait of a man who did all the expected things – he joined up in World War II, flew bombers, survived as a prisoner of war and came home to play rugby for this country. But at heart a bitter sense of guilt left over from an incident in a POW camp made him irascible and difficult…

The strength of this book lies in its varied and rich characterisation… Hobbs creates three black women characters with great insight and warmth, nicely counterbalancing the soldiers and reflecting how previously invisible people are now so often the stable pillars of our society…. In this unpretentious and warm-hearted book full of rugby, war and family secrets, it is entirely appropriate that the hymn sung at JJ’s funeral should be “He who would valiant be…’ and one wonders whether Hobbs may also be one of those whose sense of fairness may be mistaken for nostalgia.

Margaret Williamson in The Argus

If the title Thoughts in a Makeshift Mortuary puts you off, join the club. But if you soldier on through the opening scene, fascinated by horror, curiosity, or by the quality of the writing itself, you’ll reap a rich reward. Part of it is close identification with characters black, white and brown, who are caught up in a swirling vortex that’s sucking them down to their destiny. You feel you’re meeting yourself, and people you know, on every page.

Margaret von Klemperer, Witness

This novel opens with the death of the main character, and ends with his burial, by which time Jenny Hobbs has created a believable man. The story of his life is told mainly through the thoughts of those who attend his funeral at the cathedral in Durban, the city where he has lived most of his life. The reader comes to see him as a boy, a war hero, a Springbok rugby player and a family man. And also to see and understand the guilty secret that has informed his life, post-1945 … This is not an anti-war novel, though it never glamorises war.

Ken Barris, Cape Times

Kitchen Boy is an unusual literary take on the life of a former rugby Springbok and war hero. The novel opens with the death of the old hero and moves to his funeral service, the first of several braided narratives… Dipping into the recollections of his gathered friends, family and incidental figures, she builds up a compound picture of J J Kitching that spans his youth, war service and life afterwards. She also uses the service to orchestrate a variety of effects that feed into the rich structure and scope of the novel.

There is broad comedy in figures such as the pompous bishop and the lugubrious undertaker . There are tensions that unfold within the Kitching family … There is the pathos of the aging MOTHs who have come to honour their old comrade-in-arms… The recollections of the ancient warriors present a moving picture of Kitching’s war and the effects of trauma on his POW companions’  life choices after the war… I was impressed by the broad sweep of the novel, and by its clever marshalling of numerous perspectives to create the portrait of a compromised hero. In fact, I was moved by the dignified pain of the old soldiers and the way they move to resolve their differences. Kitchen Boy is a novel with heart.

Sue Grant-Marshall, Business Day

The catchment readership for SA author Jenny Hobbs’s latest novel is a wide one, for it includes rugby players, religion and wars. The title comes from the chief protagonist’s name, John  Joseph Kitching, a war hero and former Springbok rugby player who has died at a rich old age, taking a shameful war secret with him. His friends, and an enemy, gather to laud him and damn the war that killed many… The story is rooted in Kwa-Zulu Natal, where Hobbs grew up.  It’s also set in European POW camps where Kitchen Boy and his comrades battle the cold, the lice and German brutality… An uncle of Hobbs was taken prisoner and she sets out to keep the memory of him and others like him alive for her nine grandchildren to whom she dedicates the book: “May they live in peace and never experience war.”

Anna Christenson, Financial Mail

In her latest book Jenny Hobbs has taken on the clubby SA business community and added an extra dimension to a call made regularly in the FM for stricter regulation of business practices. In Quain, Hobbs has created a deeply flawed individual. He is an opaque, multifaceted character, lovable but nefarious, ruthless but soft, leaving hefty bequests to his down-and-out friends and helping establish a Johannesburg renaissance… The opacity of Quain’s life is a metaphor for the lack of transparency in SA businesses. None of his circles converges, everyone is kept in the dark. Only as his life fades does he shine a light on it and find it wanting. Dobermann represents morality, and her absolution is as necessary to Quain as his acceptance of her socialist conscience is to her. Hobbs is a powerful storyteller. She secured her credentials with The Sweet-Smelling Jasmine, another novel based on headlines, but one that will live on in my mind.

Jen Crocker, Cape Times

What happens when a wealthy, powerful businessman is faced with his own mortality? What truths will be revealed as he opens his life to the scrutiny of an old friend, and what does that mean for both the teller of the tale and the listener? These are the major themes of Jenny Hobbs’ novel. Angus Quain is dying and in his death throes he chooses to allow a friend, Faith Dobermann, to see tantalising glimpses of the secret facets of his life. Hobbs has created a skilful tale of the shifting of the balance of power between two people involved in what is essentially a deathbed conversation over a longish period of time. While the novel explores on the one hand the murky underside of big business and a city that draws its meaning from transactions, it also examines the landscape of friendship and the manner in which personal circumstances informs it. Hobbs has written a finely structured novel. She constructs a hall of mirrors and then allows her characters to be revealed in an unflinching manner. This is an important novel about modern life and Hobbs remains one of South Africa’s better observers of life and the meaning, or the lack, of it.

Michael Shafto, The Star

Jenny Hobbs is a true professional. In three novels now she has shown remarkable consistency with subjects as diverse as apartheid atrocities, childhood memories of a small Natal South Coast community and this exposé of Joburg big-business scandals. The plot concerns a divorced lady historian who has a friendship of 15 years with accounting tycoon Angus Quain. But all this changes when Angus announces he has stomach cancer. The whole basis of the relationship undergoes a subtle switch. Just as important is the very human story of Quain’s decline and the historian narrator’s faithful watch over her friend’s hopelessly brave fight against encroaching death.

Michele Magwood, Sunday Independent

Angus Quain is an eminent businessman and philanthropist, a man who hoisted himself from the wrong side of the tracks to become one of the most powerful men in the financial area. Long-divorced, he befriends Faith Dobermann and on every Saturday for 15 years the two meet for lunch at his club, until the day Angus announces that he has cancer. It is only then, in what will be the last year of his life, that Faith uncovers the many facets of Angus Quain. She begins to unpick the fabric of his life, revealing strands of silken brilliance but also slubs of corruption and fraud. She reveals a seam of corporate malfeasance, but also learns of Angus’s secret generosity. She is hurt to discover that she occupies only one compartment of many in his carefully designed life and sets out to uncover the others. Out of these compartments dance a marvellous array of characters: illegitimate children, dusky strippers, gay avocado farmers and a government minister who is also a traditional healer. Looming large are the denizens of big business and their questionable deals, an element of the story that culminates in Angus Quain finally clearing his conscience – and in so doing, fingering some of his fellow sharks. The Telling of Angus Quain is a contemporary story about contemporary Johannesburg. It is mercifully about people, not politics – and those people are real, rounded and believable.

Heather Mackie, Business Day

The energy, drive and ruthlessness that built Johannesburg from a mining camp and frontier town into a sophisticated metropolis and financial centre form the background to Jenny Hobbs’ latest novel. Hobbs is one of our more accomplished authors … her novels are a good read with strong plots, credible characters, familiar backgrounds, easy dialogue and a human morality that is not mawkish… The central character, Angus Quain, is a self-made businessman in Johannesburg, a rough diamond who has wheeled and dealed his way to fortune from humble beginnings in Cape Town. When we meet him, he is dying of cancer. His story is told through Faith Dobermann, a writer cum historian. The world she describes is one of power and position, but also exposes the culture of greed, the corporate underworld and a prestigious man’s club which is both misogynistic and anachronistic. Much of it echoes recent scandals, both here and abroad, and is wonderful material for a juicy soap. And there may be a few pink faces around the Stock Exchange wondering whether they have been her role models.

Darryl Accone in the Mail & Guardian

Twenty-five years after it heralded the arrival of a significant South African novelist, Thoughts in a Makeshift Mortuary has been reissued. To me it has always seemed an offence that Jenny Hobbs’s novel, one of the great South African works of the 1980s, has been allowed to go out of print. Thanks to Umuzi, then, for making this South African classic available to generations of new readers.

Those coming to the book anew will find that there is much in it to chime with the famously wise opening line of LP Hartley’s beloved novel The Go-Between (1953): “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” In the Hobbs, the past is 1983 and the foreign countries are Lesotho – and South Africa. Rose, a teacher, and Jake, a poet and activist, fled the latter for the former. They cannot live and love together because of South Africa’s odious pass laws. What happens to them in a Lesotho village sets off the thoughts and hopes that animate this novel and make it not only a poignant reminder of terrible times, but also a call for hope and renewal in the strange days of South Africa 2014.

Tienie Botes in The Citizen

Isabel is a middle-aged housewife who wants to be an author. Her secret lover puts the challenge to her: ‘Write about Two Rivers. That special place at a special time in your life – our lives.’

After her father’s death and her mother’s nervous breakdown, Isabel was left in the care of her older sister Stella and her husband Finn, the pharmacist at Two Rivers. This beautiful small town on the Natal coast becomes the scene of religious fervour and racial tension when a Hindu temple stands in the way of progress…

The conclusion of this charismatic novel is a spray of sweet-smelling jasmine on the coffin of an era, pray never to be repeated again.

Erika de Beer in Beeld

The Sweet-Smelling Jasmine is meer as net die naam van die roman of ‘n lendelam bus – dit simboliseer ‘n atmosfeer waarin jy met al jou sintuie kan verdrink. As dit nie reeds op jou leeslys is nie, maak ‘n plan.

Die roman is ‘n vlegsel van verhaallyne, dié van die middeljarige aspirant-skrywer, Isabel, en dié van ‘n deel van haar jeug wat sy op ‘n Natalse dorpie met die naam Two Rivers deurgebring het. Die twee wissel mekaar af en tussenin is daar ook uittreksels van ‘n verslag oor ‘n opstand wat op die dorpie plaasgevind het…

In dié verhaal word die leser na ‘n heel ander wêreld verplaas – ‘n vergeelde foto-atmosfeer van 1952.

Hobbs se skryfstyl vloei so gemaklik soos die Two Rivers waaroor sy skryf. ‘n Mens kan nie help om deur die stroom meergesleur te word nie…

Hoewel dit ‘n mens onwillekeurig aan Harper Lee se To Kill a Mockingbird laat dink, is The Sweet-Smelling Jasmine heerlik Suid-Afrikaans. Apartheid is ‘n belangrike tema, maar sonder die gewetensbagasie wat so dikwels daarmee gepaard gaan. Lees dit sonder voorbehoud of versuim.

Sister Wendy Beckett

It’s an enthralling book, not a dull line and not a thing that isn’t integrated into the whole. So, technically superb but also, so potent spiritually. Isabel’s maturing is very moving, seemingly uncontrived. It’s a book about maturing … a mature book in every sense, and a good one in every sense, too… You have given me real delight in this book, even better than your fine first novel.

Barry Smit in The Star

Hobbs’s second novel is a good read… Set mainly in the fictional sugar town of Two Rivers in the early 1950s, when the Nationalists’ apartheid laws were just starting to have impact, it explores through the eyes of an intelligent, sensitive 14-year-old girl the life and conflicts of the town’s black, white and Indian communities.

The girl, Isabel, comes to the town from a Transvaal mining dorp for a brief stay with her elder sister and brother-in-law – the local pharmacist, a remarkable sympathetic and well-drawn character – after her father’s death and her mother’s subsequent nervous breakdown.

During her sojourn there, events that will have a lasting effect on her adult existence take place, including a devastating race riot during a Hindu religious festival that is indelibly stamped on her memory. But the book is far from overtly political, although, in dealing mainly with the concerns of ordinary people, it expresses well how social realities surround and impact on them, both personally and as a community…

Her account of the dissolution of Isabel’s marriage and the emotions this invokes, shows remarkable insight into the very nature of relationships …  She is also adept at describing the pleasures of sex in middle age.

Carol Lazar in the Sunday Star

South African writer Jenny Hobbs’s newest book … set in Natal, traverses different time spans – the 50s and today.

The story, about Isabel, a housewife in the arms of her foreign correspondent lover, is beautifully told. There are two distinct threads. The young Isabel of the 50s who goes to live with her sister and brother-in-law in Two Rivers, and the older, mature Isabel, with grown-up daughters and a dull husband.

Natal in the 50s was a place of turmoil (as it is now) and Hobbs grippingly describes the events of the time that lead to a catastrophe which will change Isabel’s life forever.

Her writing is sensitive, her descriptions evocative and her sense of timing impeccable. For those who love the richly embroidered stories of South American writer Isabel Allende, Jenny Hobbs will be a find. She has a similar style of writing at times and her readers will get lost in her story. And what finer tribute could there be for a writer.