Monday, June 28, 2010

Sex & Stravinsky
By Barbara Trapido
Bloomsbury, $38.99
Reviewed by Nicky Pellegrino

There are elements of UK author Barbara Trapido’s seventh novel that remind me of one of those classic French farces or Shakespearian comedy. Credulity is stretched, identities are hidden, no one is entirely what they seem…or even what they think they are. But that makes this book sound pretentious and it’s not at all. It’s a droll story of twined lives, finely balanced between truth and humour, and it reads as though Trapido wrote it with a smile on her face.

The story opens in the UK during the late 70s when student Josh meets uber-woman Caroline and falls in love with her. It then moves on swiftly to the mid 90s. Super capable Caroline is bullied by her gorgon of a mother, Josh is too wimpy to do anything about it and their little girl Zoe is dreading her upcoming French exchange trip and longing for ballet lessons. In the meantime, over in South Africa, Josh’s first love Hattie Marais is being neglected by her rich, successful husband, bullied by her moody, messed up daughter and just happens to be the author of Zoe’s favourite ballet stories. Living in Hattie’s guest house is a mysterious lodger, Giacomo, who we eventually realise is a character from Josh’s South African past. All this comes together in the end in a spectacularly farcical scene that defies belief somewhat but is enjoyable all the same.

In fact, there is so much to enjoy about this book. Trapido is excellent on the topic of the various neuroses of the typical teenage girl and writes up a storm on mother/daughter relationships. The story is littered with references to art, dance and music but in a decorative enough way for it not to really matter if you don’t know the first thing about Stravinsky’s Pulcinella. It embraces the author’s native South Africa, its politics and its people, it social injustices and its beauty.

Trapido manages to straddle literary and popular fiction very successfully. This novel is forthright and witty, serious without taking itself particularly seriously, designed to make you think…and make you smile. All in all Sex & Stravinsky is a lot of fun.


Nicky Pellegrino,  a succcesful author of popular fiction, (The Italian Wedding was published in May 2009 while her latest, Recipe for Life was published by Orion in April, 2010), is also the Books Editor of the Herald on Sunday where the above piece was first published on 27 June. 

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