Sex and Stravinsky: Barbara Trapido

I have a huge literary crush on Barbara Trapido – one of my all-time top five authors. Her books are deliciously light and razor-sharp clever; spiked with a fierce (often dark) wit. They usually borrow themes from canonical texts (here, it’s Stravinksy’s ballet Pulcinella), but the characters are always the focus, making the novels an absolute delight to read.

The novel opens with a meet-cute in a 1970s share house between weedy, arty Josh and impossibly beautiful ‘Wonder Woman’ Caroline. They quickly marry – and their happiness is soon thwarted by Caroline’s passive-aggressive mother and ridiculously favoured younger sister. Meanwhile, in South Africa, Josh’s childhood sweetheart Hattie, a retired ballet teacher turned novelist, is bored in her marriage to Herman, a dominating architect marked by ‘master-race charm’. The two couples, and their teenage daughters, are caught up in a contemporary family farce, along with Hattie’s mysterious lodger, who has intricate past connections to both her and Josh.

Trapido explores the enduring hold of family dynamics, the mysteries of attraction and the changing politics (domestic and national) of post-apartheid South Africa. A wonderful read.