About 100 years ago, I read an excerpt from Trapido’s novel “Juggling” in a Sunday supplement. I remember being mesmerised by it and thinking I should definitely read it. While I never did actually read it, I have never forgotten how delightful I found Trapido’s prose in that excerpt. So when “Sex & Stravinsky”, her most recent novel, popped up in a Kindle sale, I bought it without even thinking.
I also didn’t read the synopsis. When I did, and it said things like “the book throws up the complexity, cruelty and richness of the global world while, as a sequence of personal stories, it comes together like a dance”, It made me want to puke on my shoes. And so it has languished unread on the Kindle for over a year. However, as part of the Cannonball, I have vowed to clear my impulse buy laden backlog on the Kindle and so I gritted my teeth and got stuck in. And wasn’t I glad I did.
Set in 1995, the novel tells the story of an extended family from all over the globe, though mostly South Africa and Australia. It tells it in nine chapters and an afterword. Chapters 1-8 focus on a different member of the family, chapter 9 throws them all together and watches the sparks fly, before the afterword ties it all together. It’s a structure reminiscent of the recently published Twelve Tribes of Hattie, and it works quite beautifully here.
The biggest strength is that all 8 people are so vividly drawn, so minutely detailed that it’s impossible not to feel for them. It’s easy to love Caroline, whose chapter deals with discovering her dying mother betrayed her for her entire life, but it’s also easy to understand why she drives her teenage daughter Zoe so relentlessly up the wall. Supporting characters come and go in each chapter, all as sharply realised as the main players, most of them humorously nicknamed (Caroline’s sister Janet has a weak constitution to match her personality, earning her the nickname The Less Fortunate).
Trapido casts her net impressively wide and manages to pack an immense amount of plot, character development and travel into a little over 300 pages. The series of coincidences that draws the disparate eight people together may strain the suspension of disbelief and the speed of some the enormous decisions are made in the fallout may stretch it further. It’s a huge credit to how well Trapido has got under the skin of all of them that it’s easy to forgive this, purely because you just want ALL of them to be happy. And while not everyone quite gets the fairytale ending you’re rooting for, the final pages of this book manage to induce a warm glow and a little bit of heartbreak at the same time. It’s gorgeous.