Published 5 February, 2015 by Jonathan Cape
In 1976, in rural South Africa, a family massacre takes place; a bloodbath whose only witness is a young black maid. Nearby is a state-owned school camp, run by Hendrik Deyer who lives on the grounds with his wife Petronella and their two sons, Werner and Marius. As Hendrik becomes obsessed with uncovering what happened, his wife worries about her neighbours, a poor white family whose malign influence on her son Werner is - she believes - making his behaviour inexplicably strange and hostile. One night another tragedy changes their lives, irrevocably.
Two decades later, Werner is living with his mother and invalid father in a small Pretoria flat. South Africa is a changed place. Werner holds a tedious job in the administration department of the local university and dreams of opening his own gallery. His father is bedridden, hovering on the edge of death. As Werner feels his own life slip away his thoughts turn to murder as a means to correct the course of all their futures. It is not possible to undo what happened in 1976, but Werner's desperation to change his own his fate will threaten not only his family but also those still living in the aftermath of what happened all those years ago.Find it on Amazon
Jonathan Cape (UK); Farrar, Straus & Giroux (US)
Jack Viljee's hometown of Johannesburg is still divided by apartheid, though the old order is starting to crumble. According to eleven-year-old Jack, the world is a rational and simple place. But if life doesn't conform to Jack's expectations of it, there is always the sympathy and approval of the family's maid to console him. Not that Susie is a pushover. She believes violence, of the non-disfiguring variety, is a healthy form of affection, hence her not infrequent expression, "Jack, I love you so much. I will hit you." Jack himself is not above socking his best friend in the eye or scamming his little sister into picking up the dog mess. The Viljee household, in its small way, mirrors the politics of the country.
This noisy domesticity is upset by the arrival of Susie's fifteen-year-old son. Percy is bored, idle, and full of rage. When Percy catches Jack in an indelibly shameful moment, Jack learns that the smallest act of revenge has consequences beyond his imagining. The world, it turns out, is not so simple.Find it on Amazon
Smart, charming, funny, highly astute and subtly political. A really terrific read. Douglas Coupland
Strauss's often-hilarious debut captures a remarkable period of time ... in Jack he has created an unlikely, and utterly believable, voice of a generation. Kirkus Review
There is nothing in my life that will be of much interest - but here goes. I was born and raised in Johannesburg. My mother was a teacher and my father a barrister. I attended an Afrikaans primary school and an English high school. After matriculating I enrolled in drama school but dropped out after two weeks and finished a BA in English and Philosophy instead. I did my post grad degree at the University of Auckland and then had a major falling out with my supervisor, which scuppered my plans to become an academic. I scraped together a meagre existence working for community arts projects and writing plays for Auckland Theatre Company. I believed I had a bright future as a playwright - and brimming with confidence I moved to London. I keep a box under my bed with all the plays that were rejected over the years - including what I thought was a particularly brilliant one-woman show I'd written for Maggie Smith. When I turned 30, I thought it unseemly to carry on writing plays. If you haven't made it as a playwright in your 20s, you never will, so I tried to write a novel instead. I'm a freelance copywriter / producer and live with my partner in London.
The book is an easy read and it's not overly political; then again it's difficult to write a book about South Africa that doesn't have political overtones. I think parts of it are funny - but there are a fair few readers who didn't find it funny at all. A very well regarded editor said it was an 'unremittingly grim read in which every kindness just begets another cruelty.'
Werner Deyer and I have a lot in common. His flaws, though metastasized, are mine. Misanthropy is often noble - an expression of deep disappointment in the fact that people can't get their shit together. But there is a mean spirited kind and its genesis lies in the fact the world has failed to appreciate you sufficiently - or at all. At best it makes you a sneering, jealous bore - at worst it makes you a vicious, dangerous bastard, which is more fun. I also share Werner's gluttony, his fondness for alcohol, his vanity, an undignified obsession with male beauty and a love of nicotine. I too crave adulation, influence and power - whilst recognising that these desires are vulgar. I think the book is an alternative autobiography - the kind of person I could be and the kind of person I sometimes am. I joke - but then again - not entirely.