|It is the seventies and together with bittersweet pop songs and Springbok Radio serials a dark cloud descends over the country. The heyday of apartheid and the border war also resonate in the Besters’ house in Pretoria, where Helena Bester lies staring into the darkness as she listens to her grandmother’s rattling snores and incoherent mumbling. Helena sometimes has to help rub the pains from her grandmother’s body with foul-smelling ointment, but there is no obvious cure for the greater distress of this family. And it is for this reason that Helena disappears into the bathroom every now and then with her bag of cutting instruments.
When the burning pain shoot up in her thigh and she feels the warm blood run down her leg, only then does she feel as though she has control over the chaos that threatens to overwhelm her. Helena fights the engulfing conviction that she is like her father, that out of all five of their children she is most like her drunkard, chauvinistic, abusive policeman father. And after she hears her father giving her brother a beating with his fists one night because his performance on the rugby field was unsatisfactory, she fetches the revolver from where she has hidden it. That revolver that her father apparently gave her in a drunken haze. She feels the cold, black steel and walks down the dark passage to her parents’ bedroom. For a moment she thinks about the attractive man she once saw standing by a lamppost, the angel who keeps her one happy dream alive, and then pushes the door open…
Gerda Taljaard’s debut novel, a tragicomedy that plunges the reader into a whirlpool of hopelessness and almost insane humour, deals with the self-realisation of a young woman. In an astounding way Taljaard allows the reader to experience one of the contradictions of existence, namely that life can be so terrible and so lovely at the same time.