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Denis Beckett

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Sandra Gordon reviews Magenta (2 Articles): “I dare you to read it”

MagentaOn my rounds: Ebullient and self-deprecating

Published: 07 November 2008

Some of the media matters that caught the eye of Sandra Gordon: Denis Beckett’s book launch.

Attended Beckett’s latest book launch on 5 November. He was his usual ebullient, self-deprecating self. Even the stilted question and answer session hosted by Sunday Times book editor Timon Smith raised laughs.

His first novel, entitled Magenta, is described as a “utopian thriller the likes of which you are guaranteed never to have encountered before”. Told us he was prompted to read the tale because he is angered by what’s happening in South Africa, describing the situation as “covered in a cow patty”, a reference I surmise to the seeming lack of accountability from those in power and our having to digest and somehow live with the untenable levels of crime and corruption.

I will review his novel this weekend, within arms reach of a glass of chilled champagne and the gentle mountain slopes of Dullstroom beckoning through the lodge window. He’s right, we have all learnt to cope somehow.

The average age of the assembled guests at Boekehuis (a quaint book shop associated with Media24 in some way) was on the mature side, a bit like Beckett’s, I guess – and me. Got me thinking about whether our younger generation realise his contribution to media and literature over the years. He has been a columnist and commentator in print, on radio and TV and famous for a long-running actuality TV series, Beckett’s Trek.

I am proud of his association with The Media magazine. He wrote an illuminating profile cover story for our very first issue in October 2002 – I hope to find the very same writing in his book. He rather charmingly describes his style as “Seffricanese”.
On my rounds: Beckett’s book


Published: 18 November 2008

Some of the media matters that caught the eye of Sandra Gordon: Trying to make sense of our crazy world.

Let me start by saying that I am not a book reviewer, just an avid reader. And I enjoy it when journalists turn their skills to the task of writing books.

Denis Beckett’s first novel Magenta is thoughtful, quirky and in your face. A bit like the man – but more on this later.

It is not the easiest read. At the outset you have to work your mind around his rather unique language and his clipped style of writing, which is more aligned to advertising copy than that of journalism or novel writing. Keep going past the first 20 pages or so and you will realise you know this “Seffricanese” and how it has evolved. You may not speak it, but you recognise and understand it. It’s a blend of many of our indigenous languages into a slang that is used in conversation. It’s colourful and strangely meaningful. Makes you feel at home and nostalgic. When last did you hear the words “GCM” or “natch”?

It’s not an easy read for a second reason, and this is where the reader comes in. It puts you on the spot, challenging your notions about living in South Africa right now. Whether based on history, religion, race or language, Beckett covers them all. He weaves you through a number of sub plots – some witty, some profound, some fantastical, but all thought provoking. According to the dust cover he set out to “grow the highs of living in SA and shrink the lows”. After reading the 500 page book, I believe he does this.

Now to the main character, Bart Dunn. This is Beckett, the similarities are obvious. His activist background, suburbs he strolls through (Parkview where Beckett lives), the Seffricanese, an obvious love of and oft times despair for South Africa, are vintage Beckett. This does not distract from – but certainly adds to – the lingering value of reading the book. You get a strong sense of real caring through the eyes and ears of someone who has been there and done that, someone who wants to make a difference rather than bleating about the country over dinner.

Don’t let me mislead you, it is only profound and meaningful in analysis. It is a decidedly good story with many twists and turns. These include a raunchy love affair, gun battles, nail biting car accidents, a difficult relationship with an adopted sibling and above all, the tenderness of people coming together, especially in adversity.

I dare you to read it.

These articles first appeared in The Media magazine


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