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Eben Venter’s Wolf, Wolf Launched with Marianne Thamm at The Book Lounge

Eben Venter

Cape Town’s book lovers and writers made a good showing at The Book Lounge last week to celebrate the launch of Eben Venter’s latest literary offering, a dual arrival. Wolf, Wolf has been translated into English by the award-winning translator, Michiel Heyns. It has been published at the same time as the Afrikaans version bearing the same name, Wolf, wolf.

Marianne Thamm and Eben VenterVenter, who lives in Australia, was joined by veteran journalist, Marianne Thamm. He spoke about the story which draws its name from the children’s game, “Wolfie, wolfie, what’s the time?”. He drew upon the leitmotif used in The Catcher in the Rye, to sustain a sense of menace throughout the story line. He spoke also of how he explores the loss of cultural identity set within the context of a complex father-son relationship. Mattheüs, who is gay, looks after his dying father, Benjamin, who was once the proprietor of Duiker’s Motors.

In a hilarious discussion the speakers covered the process of writing characters the author liked, the equal opportunities for being a victim of crime in South Africa, and the merits and demerits of watching porn.

Thamm, who is an occasional stand up comic, cuts to the bone of an issue with a razor sharp critique one minute, and then immediately inverts her analysis with a hilarious observation presented with deadpan delivery. She reflected on the challenge a book tour presents to an author who must meet the readers who love writing “which presents us to ourself”. She suggested that an author might hope that his or her book will speak for itself, “but people coming to buy it want to engage on the issues around the book. To talk through one’s book is exhausting”.

Wolf, WolfWolf, WolfShe said she hadn’t stopped thinking about the “extraordinary narrative with its layers upon layers” since she finished reading it. “As much as the action takes place in a small geographical location, this book takes the reader into the vast reaches of the heart, wide open, a world where we are all atomised – sexually and socially.”

Venter spoke of drawing on his own experience of looking after his brother until he died. “One fictionalises autobiography – thank goodness.” Thamm wanted to know how much porn he had needed to watch in order to draw on his own experience. “A lot!” he said. “But how?” she answered, complaining of the deflating effect of slow bandwidth buffering she suffers as a resident in Newlands.

Venter spoke of the process of translation. He recalled working with Luke Stubbs on the translation of his previous novels, Trencherman and My Beautiful Death. They would sit side by side, discussing it sentence by sentence. “It was a very different experience working with Michiel,” he said. “He gave me one look at the translation. One input. Then he told me he wanted to be left to ‘get on with it’! I had to trust him and leave it alone.”

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Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) tweeted from the launch using #livebooks:

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