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Protea Boekhuis

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

“In Our Safest Places We Aren’t Safe” – Joanne Macgregor on the “Intimate Violence” in Skadustemme

Joanne Macgregor and Lood du Plessis

Joanne Macgregor and Lood du PlessisDark WhispersSkadustemmeIt was a brisk winter’s evening in early August and Love Books in Johannesburg was shrouded in darkness. Readers, friends and fellow writers braved the loadshedding to listen to Joanne Macgregor tell Lood du Plessis about Skadustemme, the Afrikaans translation of her psychological thriller Dark Whispers.

Macgregor launched Dark Whispers at Bibliophilia in Cape Town last year. Skadustemme, translated by Elsa Silke, tells the story of Megan Wright, a clinical psychologist who comes to suspect that one of her clients has been tortured and mutilated by her gynaecologist. A game of cat and mouse ensues when he realises that she’s been investigating his past activities and speaking to his former patients. Megan also has an overbearing mother, a sister with an eating disorder, a pregnancy and a loser boyfriend to deal with, as if having an evil doctor hot on her heels is not enough.

Du Plessis observed that Macgregor is known for her strong female characters. “I don’t set out to do it but I don’t know any weak women,” she retorted, adding that although Megan Wright is strong she’s far from perfect. “She’s fallible, she cocks up.” How much of Joanne is in Megan? “Everything you write is a projection of yourself,” the clinical psychologist answered.

Macgregor spoke about the “intimate violence” in her book, which is a breakaway from the usual crime fiction characterised by blazing guns and overt physical confrontation. Going to the gynaecologist is a private moment in which you hand over all control of your body.

Skadustemme is not a whodunnit; a big part of building suspense in the novel is through the onerous ethics of psychology. When Doctor Trotteur realises that Megan is onto him, he becomes her patient in order to toy with her and find out what she knows. “The truly dangerous people don’t volunteer for therapy. What if someone became your client so you can’t catch them?”

Macgregor admitted she was a “colossal nuisance” in the translation process – she struggled to let certain things go. Afterwards she attended a panel discussion on translation at the Kingsmead Book Fair where she learned valuable lessons. Jaco van Schalkwyk spoke about translating his own book and said it is important to realise that the two books are not the same, “they’re twins”. At the end of Skadustemme the villain’s language becomes a “word salad”, which Silke translated very well. “I think what changes most in translation is the voice,” Macgregor says.

At this point Macgregor read the prologue in both English and Afrikaans and a shiver ran through the audience as the thoughts of the villain filled the room.

Listen to the podcasts, first in English, then in Afrikaans:


“If you want to know a society look at its crime fiction; it’s a thriving genre in South Africa,” Macgregor remarked. “I’ve always been interested in the victim’s perception of crime, not the police’s. I bring something more intimate to the table.”

She reflected on the setting of the novel: “In Joburg I don’t know if we’re ever home from the war. Where’s the line between paranoia and vigilance?

“In our safest places we aren’t safe.”


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Annetjie van Wynegaard (@Annetjievw) live tweeted the event using #livebooks:


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The author spoke to Lood du Plessis about Skadustemme, the Afrikaans translation of her psychological thriller, Dark Whispers.

Posted by Protea Boekhuis on Thursday, 13 August 2015


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