Book Review: Rusty Bell by Nthikeng Mohlele
Location: At home, in one weekend
Rating: A book with an “Oh!” moment
“I wrestled with life and lost.”
What I like most about Rusty Bell by Nthikeng Mohlele is the way it’s set up. At first you meet the protagonist and you think, “What’s wrong with this guy? Why’s he messing up a good life, a good wife?”
Then you find out why and you’re like, “Oh”.
I love books where there’s an “Oh”.
More than that, I can’t really say about the plot without giving too much away. Suffice it to say, Rusty Bell is the story of a lifetime of living. We meet Sir Marvin (Michael) when he’s a 48-year-old, relatively successful corporate lawyer with an addiction to whiskey and lap dances. We gather that he’s been visiting the same psychologist, Dr West, for the past 20 years and that he doesn’t have much of a relationship with his wife and son. The first part culminates in tragedy and paves the way to the real story – Sir Marvin at 24 and everything that’s happened since. Throw in a talking cat (a homage to Kafka on the Shore, perhaps?) and you have yourself a thoroughly delightful novel that questions everything, from life and love to lust and forgiveness.
Mohlele is a South African writer based in Johannesburg and definitely worth a read. If you’ve met him in person like I have, you’ll love his books even more. His writer’s voice is distinctive and unique, filled with humour and tongue-in-cheek wisdom. Rusty Bell is his third novel, followed by Pleasure which was published earlier this year by Pan Macmillan. His first two novels are The Scent of Bliss and Small Things.
I started Rusty Bell on Saturday morning and I finished on Sunday night, occasionally coming out of my cave for cups of tea and scraps of food. My husband understands, some books you just need to binge on.
So yes, technically I didn’t read Rusty Bell on the train, since I didn’t even leave the house. But on a sweltering hot Korean summers day, it made me feel like I was back in Johannesburg, navigating the contours of life.
Rusty Bell is well worth a read.