Book Review: What Will People Say? by Rehana Rossouw

September 14, 2015 § 5 Comments

2uEtkaX-198x300 Rehana Rossouw’s What Will People Say? is a compelling and unapologetic debut novel.

Rossouw tells the story of the Fouries, a working-class family living in Hanover Park during the turbulent 1980s South Africa. Father Neville and mother Magda are doing their best to raise their three teenaged children “decent” in a township feeling the full effects of the poverty into which the inhabitants are consigned. However, children Suzette, Nicky and Anthony Fourie have their own ideas about how to survive and thrive in Hanover Park…and in some cases, how to escape it completely.

From open to close, Rossouw succeeds in vividly evoking the sights, sounds and smells of the heart of the Cape Flats. Her language is liberally dotted with the gritty vernacular of the time and place, and no explanatory glossary is granted to the reader. This utterly unique patois was something that took a bit of getting used to, but surrendering to Rossouw’s choice of language resulted in perfect immersion in her world – a testament to her skill as a writer.

While the language and style are remarkable in themselves, the story is gripping and intense – township life feels constantly balanced on the edge of disaster, and danger looms for every member of the Fourie family. What Will People Say? presents characters who are nuanced and infinitely human, characters that compel a reader to think. Neville’s obvious love for his children is heart-warming, but his relationship with his wife seems stuck in a deadlock that is passive from his side and aggressive from hers. Suzette’s rebellion is in equal measure irresponsible and understandable, and triggers a conflicting response in the reader of simultaneously wanting her to succeed as a model and wanting her to go back to school and reconcile with her family.

Rossouw’s masterful use of language and her captivating characters make this debut novel truly difficult to put down – you may find yourself obsessively racing through the last 150 pages with both sheer fascination with the events unfolding, and anxiety about the novel actually ending…rather like I did.

(Published in the Pretoria News, and in the September 2015 issue of Cover to Cover by Exclusive Books.)

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