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A young girl’s transforming heart transplant

By Janet van Eeden

JANET VAN EEDEN Emily Green and Me by Kathryn White. Umuzi.

I am always reluctant to criticise newly-published South African writers as I feel we have a duty to encourage the burgeoning authorial talent in this county. But if I am to do my duty as a reviewer I have to be honest. The blurb on the cover says that Kathryn White works in advertising and journalism in Johannesburg. Unfortunately, I think the influence of the advertising world has too strong an influence on her writing.

The story concerns an 11-year-old girl, Emily Green, who is waiting for a heart transplant to save her life. At the start of the novel she gets the heart of a teenage boy from the rough side of the tracks, who has died in a bike accident. Soon, her fragile mother and oh so perfect father notice changes in their once normal-though-dying-of-heart-disease daughter. Emily begins to like heavy rock music, cuts her hair to look like a boy’s, and starts smoking. Through short chapters interspersed with Emily’s narrative, we learn that the boy’s ghost has become very involved in Emily’s earthly life. He is exerting all these new influences on her.

The story is a good idea, but it is unfortunately marred by self-conscious swathes of prose which become very tedious. I was inspired to put the novel down many times. Prose like this is deeply self-indulgent, especially when it doesn’t take the narrative forward.

White has a sharp awareness of language and comes up with one unusual analogy after another. The problem is that this excessive consciousness of language is like a violinist using her bow to chop wood instead of making music. (You see how catching these bad analogies are?)

As a result of this heavy-handed writing, the story lacks – dare I say it? – heart.