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regular-article-logo Tuesday, 16 July 2024

Cruel world

Karen Jennings writes with ease. There is a flow to her style that makes readers relish chunks of the book

Rahul Singh Published 21.06.24, 08:43 AM

Sourced by the Telegraph

CROOKED SEEDS

By Karen Jennings

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Picador, Rs 499

Karen Jennings’s latest novel imagines a world gone astray. Set in post-apartheid South Africa, the year 2028 is equally dystopian. The sky is metallic grey with no sign of rain; citizens are scrambling for drinking water amidst plummeting supply; land is being seized by the government — where the eyes can reach, “everything had altered, was deserted, ash covered.”

We follow Deidre van Deventer, a 53-year-old single woman, who had lost one of her limbs in a blast when she was 18. She survives on a pitiable disability allowance and the money sent by her adopted daughter from London. To abate her anxiety, Deidre loves smoking cigarettes and guzzling alcohol. She doesn’t shower, clean her house, or caresabout food too much. She is angry at the way life has turned out for her. But things worsen when she gets a call from a detective. The police have found babies buried in her erstwhile home and are aware that her brother had strong connections
with a pro-apartheid group of the 1990s.

Jennings writes with ease. There is a flow to her style that makes readers relish chunks of the book. The plot moves forward through dialogues and Jennings addresses South African discourses through her characters, thereby fusing brevity with substance.

The first part of the novel is slow given its unnecessary expositions. But the latter part makes the readers whizz through a tense, gripping plot. Crooked Seeds, much like Percival Everett’s The Trees, is a study of characters as well as of themes such as racism, colonialism, patriarchy and violence. The dying black men of The Trees and the dead babies of Crooked Seeds, however, serve as the background for the characters to unspool themselves. This may annoy readers who may have picked the book expecting a thriller. But Jennings bends the template of thriller-writing by prioritising character sketches over voyeuristic peeks at death and justice.

Given its pace and cruelty, Crooked Seeds will cling to the readers.

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