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Sunday, 07 November 2010 02:00

Just Dessert, Dear

By  Leila Bloch
Renowned South African author Marita Van der Vyver offers up a bittersweet and entertaining novel to the table of women's literature. Just Dessert, Dear, her latest serving, is an entertaining and juicy read. As much a revenge story as it is a personal drama, this novel is ultimately a love story - a story of gaining love for oneself. This is lucidly expressed using the ageless languages of food, lust and longing.

Getting through a divorce after her husband's ugly affair with a beautiful colleague sends protagonist Clara into the depths of self-loathing and contempt. Through the lens of Clara the reader is taken on an emotional rollercoaster of her post-married life. Burning through what is a nuanced expression of doubt, distress and rage Clara finally arrives at a place of joy, fulfilment and acceptance. Perhaps, with revenge being a dish best served cold etc Clara manages to take the phrase 'eat your heart out' to new levels as the novel bursts with sensory vengeful delight. As Tom Waits once said "I want to give real pain to my sham friends and champagne to my real friends". The book is not entirely destructive though as the reader is taken from the depths of despair to a place of fulfilment and hope through richness of humour and wonderful dishes. The transition she describes is not exclusive to her circumstance though, as most readers will be able to tap into the process of loss and renewal lightened by Vyfer's biting honesty and wit.

Most of the novel's reader-friendliness is due to the quick and accessible form of electronic letter writing. The plot unfolds over a decade through a series of e-mails and letters. These are sent to Clara's loved ones both long lost and long-distanced. The letter form draws one in to an intimate dialogue from her perspective. This moves from isolation to careful articulation of what she is going through and affirmation of those closest in her life. Through the letters one is sensitively drawn in to Clara as well as the friends and family that colour her life. Her letters move from raw confessions to sensitive reflections never without a healthy dose of self reflexivity and irony.

Clara's character is unashamedly honest, making Just Dessert, Dear a refreshing read. She does not hesitate to swear, shout or cry; artistically and skilfully of course. Despite the misleading title, this is not a cookbook though plenty of dishes are mentioned. Rather, this is a sensual but not sentimental account from a narrator of wit, intelligence and authenticity.

Just Dessert, Dear easily falls under the women's literature/self- help genre. This novel can be identified alongside the likes of Eat Pray Love, and Under the Tuscan Sun. The post-divorce-man-free-hello-travel-and yoga liberation novel is a dangerous one as it can easily lapse into the self indulgent pitying process writers should be afraid of. While a few of the letters can be repetitive, for the most part Van der Vyver keeps the momentum. There is a lot to be said about a book that respects the depths of loss while maintaining an entertainment factor that gives the reader reason to carry on... reading.

Just Dessert, Dear
by Marita Van der Vyver
Tafelberg, 2010

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1 comment

  • Comment Link Maya Monday, 08 November 2010 02:00 posted by Maya

    A refreshing and thoroughly enjoyable review. While the book sounds rich and entertaining, I appreciate the practical (without becoming cynical) heads-up on what to expect. Thanks!

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