The English title of this translated novel, It Might Get Loud, by Ingrid Winterbach references a 2008 music documentary of the same name in which Jimmy Page, the Edge and Jack White swop stories and jam together. This is a clue to the main protagonist’s passion, heavy metal and rock music; as well as to the noise going on in many of the characters’ heads. Ingrid Winterbach has a penchant for off-the-wall characters who find themselves in outlandish situations yet her keen observations render them highly recognisable.
Karl Hofmeyer, heavy metal afficionado and sufferer of severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, receives a phone call from Josias Brand, who runs a ‘haven for the have-nots’ on the slopes of Table Mountain, where Karl’s brother, Iggy has been staying. Iggy has been wreaking havoc and Josias, insists Karl comes to Cape Town to sort things out. Josias, is known as “a latter-day Lear in leather sandals”; what a marvellous phrase. In the original Afrikaans, I imagine a play on words was probably made using ‘leer’, which is the Afrikaans word for leather.
Karl embarks on a road trip from Durban to Cape Town feeling anxious about Iggy, who he has not heard from for some time. The trip is fraught with delays and chance meetings exacerbated by Karl’s many phobias like strange smells and surfaces, pets, rats, excreta and open wounds. (Some of these are more understandable than others). Certain numbers spell disaster which limits the rooms in which he can stay and even the days on which he can travel. When a woman at the Wimpy in Estcourt touches her nostril, he cannot eat his food so he pays and leaves.
A different character with seemingly no link to Karl is Maria Volschenk. She also lives in Durban with a tenant Joy Park, who lives in a garden flat on the ground floor of Maria’s house. One of the remarkable aspects of this novel, is Ingrid Winterbach’s marvellous character descriptions. She draws with words and in one sentence conjures up the image;
Joy is “more or less Maria’s age, early fifties, thin, red hair, freckled complexion, thin legs, big breasts, been round the block a couple of times, but spunky. A woman of reduced means.
Maria’s sister, Sofie, died 9 months previously and she has an unsettling dream about her. She loses interest in everything, her favourite music and her wonderful subtropical garden. In an effort to identify the source of her pain, she “compresses her memory, in an attempt to squeeze every last drop of information from it”.
Then her ex-husband phones to say Benjy, their son who lives in Cape Town is in trouble.He now lives in Cape town trying to be an artist. Maria describes Benjy in a strangely detached way, considering he is her child, even if bringing him up was complicated. She also knows Sofie left a parcel for her with Tobie, her partner.She travels to Cape Town to attempt to resolve both these issues.
Karl meets different people on his journey, such as a group of four who seem to be a Boeremag clique; Ollie of Steynsrus, Hercules of Senekal, Bertus of Holfontein and Johan. He eavesdrops on their conversation; the brilliant dialogue is written in a long continuous stream just as Karl would have heard it.
He is also tracked down by someone who has a parcel for him from brother Iggy. This causes more delays and manifestation of his phobias are highly elevated. His fears of impending doom are infectious while the description of this comedy of errors is also amusing, creating a strange contrasting reaction in the reader. He is further alarmed by someone he meets who knows who he is and claims there are powers battling for the possession of Iggy’s soul.
Maria and Karl’s respective journeys seem to have little to do with each other but the connection is revealed later in the novel.They both have parcels that contain information; they both are looking for answers. The weirdness continues; both situations and characters.This unusual though intriguing novel with its brilliant character descriptions and dialogue, may not appeal to all readers, but it is worth every minute spent reading it.
P.S. Despite not having read it in the original language, I believe the translation by Michiel Heyns to be excellent. Ingrid Winterbach’s highly unique voice is ever present.