Category Archives: The Sweet-Smelling Jasmine

The Sweet-Smelling Jasmine

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.