Anne Landsman The Devil's Chimney

ISBN 13: 9780140277463

The Devil's Chimney

3.73 avg rating
( 41 ratings by Goodreads )
 
9780140277463: The Devil's Chimney

In the shadows of the Cango Caves in rural South Africa lives Connie Lambrecht, dazed by alcohol and devastating memories. A "poor white," she is haunted by the disappearance of a young "colored" girl in a passage called the Devil's Chimney and obsessed with the story of an Englishwoman who arrived with her husband in 1910 to run an ostrich farm during the international craze for ostrich plumes. The story of Miss Beatrice--a lushly told tale of passion and transgression, violence and tragedy, retribution and redemption--entwines in surprising ways with Connie's own dark secrets. Set against a harsh, dazzling landscape and a social system in which the lives of women and black people are equally expendable--and compared by reviewers to the works of Alice Munro, J. M. Coetzee, and Flannery O'Connor--The Devil's Chimney is an artful, lyrical, and explosive debut.

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Review:

In Anne Landsman's complex debut novel , The Devil's Chimney, middle-aged Connie Lambrecht lives a life of quiet desperation in a rural South African outpost called Oudtshoorn, where she runs a dog kennel, quietly suffers the abuse of her weak-willed husband Jack, and drinks to excess. Faced with such unremitting misery, it's no wonder that Connie becomes obsessed with two stories from the past: first, the disappearance of a colored servant girl in the Cango Caves, and second, an upper-class Englishwoman's doomed attempt to run an ostrich farm nearby. As Connie attempts to reconstruct these narratives, they intertwine with her own in an increasingly feverish--and sometimes confusing--way. Landsman writes with dreamlike intensity, and her novel is strongly influenced by magical realism. Yet The Devil's Chimney is also a meditation on the very real dichotomies of race and gender in South Africa--as well as the tension between passion and terror.

From Kirkus Reviews:

A colorful, moody but unwieldy debut set in the parched highlands of South Africa. Connie, an aged alcoholic, is obsessed with the past--not only her own, which ceased to advance beyond the delivery of what she believed to be a stillborn child many decades ago, but also that of an infamous ostrich farmer's wife, whose world came crashing down on the eve of WW I with the birth of her own child. Miss Beatrice and Mr. Henry were the oddest of odd couples, dotty English ‚migr‚s in a harsh landscape dotted with the occasional black-and-white plumage of a male ostrich. When Mr. Henry went mad and vanished over the horizon, Miss Beatrice's fair hair and blue eyes drew her neighbor, the married, successful Jewish farmer Jacobs, like a beacon; after frenzied pairings with him, she also couples with the farm's black foreman, September, and soon thereafter finds she's pregnant. Whereupon Mr. Henry returns, no less strange and a whole lot meaner. He decides to pluck every last ostrich on his ranch before going back to England. In doing so he kills September, then is himself kicked to death by a breeding pair of his flock whom he had the stupidity to disturb on their nest. Miss Beatrice, meanwhile, is in labor, and when the baby proves to be the foreman's she runs off to hide it from September's wife--but she's followed. Mulling over all of this in her muddled state brings Connie to a painful understanding, too late to do her any good, of what happened to her own child. Compelling images of farm life and the distortions of fevered (or pickled) imaginations are the real strengths here, but the plot in its interlocking layers of narrative is far too complex for this treatment to sustain. (Quality Paperback Book Club selection) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Anne Landsman
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