Margaret von Klemperer
1 minute read
2 Oct 2008

An entanglement of relationships

Margaret von Klemperer

MARGARET VON KLEMPERER reviews Quarter Tones by Susan Mann. Harvill Secker.

WHEN Ana’s father Sam dies, she returns to her childhood home in Noordhoek, leaving her husband behind in Europe. She married him when she was very young, and he has become disenchanted with the idea of the no longer very new South Africa, becoming a professional NGO-man, rushing around the European continent from one workshop to another, doing good in the abstract rather than in a hands-on, person-to-person style. And, as becomes clear in the novel, he has been sucking the life and confidence out of Ana. She is a musician, but never finished her training as a flautist, giving it up to marry Michael.

She also, it seems, gave up Sam as contact between the two lessened. And now, alone in the house she once shared with him and where she grew up, she has to confront her life and relationships.

Next door is Franz van der Veer, who also has secrets in his past, and a very uneasy relationship with his brother Daniel. Slowly, by small steps, the characters move around each other, some reaching a kind of healing and decision, some still dealing with their demons.

Quarter Tone is a short book, and deals mainly with the interior life of the characters. Outside elements do intrude, sometimes brutally, but they are not the point of the story. The writing is beautiful and lyrical, maybe on occasion a little self-consciously so, but most of the time Susan Mann manages to achieve a balance between the form she has chosen to use and the content of the story she is telling. It makes for a haunting and satisfying novel.