Translated into French as Jours d'enfance
Translated into Dutch as Een jongens vriendschap
Translated into French as Un passé en noir et blanc (Philippe Rey, 2013)
A Sportful Malice
What sets it apart from the start is the quality of the writing: the humour, the wryness and Heyns’s skilful use of the power of understatement.
It is beautifully and profoundly written. . . It is the best book I have read so far this year.
This is one of those novels that has an entirely original feel …
… right up there with the best.
The Children’s Day is ‘n wonderlike, bittersoet boek wat jou sal laat skud van die lag of wrang sal laat glimlag … The Children’s Day is ‘n moet.
.. ‘n merkwaardige boek met ’n merkwaardige, ontroerende ontknoping …
You will not easily come across a local book that recreates history as palatably as The Children’s Day.
Extract from The Children's Day
Having had the protected childhood that was the only kind possible in Verkeerdespruit, I was used to piecing together my understanding of the great world from literature in the broadest sense, that is, almost anything that I could find to read in an unliterary community. Steve, I learnt from old copies of Die Huisgenoot in Mr Welthagen’s barber’s shop where I reluctantly went once a month to have my head scraped with his blunt clipper, was not unique. 'He's a ducktail,' I announced one day as we were standing around outside Steyl's cafe hoping Steve would arrive. 'You can see it from the way he combs his hair.'
…entirely convincing, wise and entertaining … a satisfying read on many levels … complex and very funny.
With the illusion of effortlessness, Heyns develops stories within stories, he depicts postures and positions, and he creates dialogue spiced with authorial attitude in a way that combines to create that curious sense one gets when reading good fiction – of yielding to a world that is complete …
He puts together a portmanteau of narrative sub-genres: political thriller, social satire, courtroom drama, boys’ adventure saga, coming-out story, urban legend, hijack yarn and finally, even a gay love story. That’s quite a feat, if one considers that the overall product is entertaining and engagingly readable
‘… a joy to read …[Heyns] has done something extraordinary with the new novel … [he has] dared to look at our South African situation with … a fair measure of humour and irony ... What endears the reader to the characters in Heyns’s writing are the finely-honed personality descriptions … the details of feature, speech and behaviour are keenly observed, to the point of excruciating reality and often very naughty humour… Heyns has woven facts, fiction, urban legend, domestic concerns, academic argument and wicked observation into a sensual story of discovery – again similar to his first novel but teetering at times on the edge of Tom Sharpe lunacy … Heyns is intelligent, hugely entertaining, and writes fabulously.’
‘… a literate comedy about the kind of stuff that should be taken very seriously’
Not many books get you to laugh from page one till … well… forever. But THE RELUCTANT PASSENGER did this for me. Don’t be fooled by this book’s being local, it truly is a universal novel. And could make an excellent movie … Any takers?’
‘No sacred cows are spared: everything is fair game to the witty insight and lively humour of Mr Heyns. The conversational style works well, resulting in an informal, easy-to-read, laugh-aloud book that will have the person next to you asking to borrow it as soon as you lay it to rest. More please, Mr Heyns!’ -
Michiel Heyns’s highly successful and acclaimed first novel THE CHILDREN’S DAY was published in 2002. His second, THE RELUCTANT PASSENGER, shares with its predecessor Heyns’s gift for comedy and his concern with identity and its formation in the South African context … the new novel is a rollicking tale of lavish and exuberant energies … It is a satire, a zany comedy, a whodunit of sorts, and a tongue-in-cheek account of sexual emancipation and self-discovery. At its most serious, it explores aspects of the struggle for power during the period of political transition in South Africa, problems of selfhood (especially the tension between ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ in the making of identity), and questions relating to ecology and conservation … THE RELUCTANT PASSENGER is a whirligig of a novel, fast and funny and gleefully irreverent.’
Extracts from The Reluctant Passenger
I’m fond of reading, but sometimes find it difficult to concentrate on very long books. My friend Gerhard says my attention span is adjusted to the sonnet rather than to the nineteenth-century novel, but I don’t seem to find poetry very interesting either: there’s such a lot of unassimilated emotion around for so little reason, as far as I can see. Gerhard says the point of the sonnet is exactly that it tidies up the emotion, but I’m not sure that uncontrollable passion succumbs that easily to a few quatrains and a rhyming couplet. I once saw a man transporting his Rottweiler in a shopping trolley through a No Dogs Allowed area: the beast was clearly well trained, and stayed put, but you could see that all it really wanted to do was chew the wheels off all the trolleys in the universe. That’s the sonnet.
It was becoming evident that even the most uneventful existence is shaped by events outside itself, unless you can contrive to live in one of those fortunate countries more boring as a whole than as the sum of the boredoms of its citizens, and known mainly for scenery and dairy produce. And even then, history has it surprises, as witness the experience of a friend of my father’s in the nineteen-seventies. Intent for reasons of his own on retiring to the spot on earth least likely to be disturbed by event or catastrophe or debt collector, he argued sensibly that it would have to be a remote, under-populated island, preferably under British dominion to guarantee the peace and the plumbing. Acting on this calculation, he arrived on the Falkland Islands just weeks before the Argentineans seized it. He was one of the few civilian casualties, shot by a female British sergeant while in the act of indecently exposing himself. There was an inquiry into the incident, and the sergeant was fully exonerated on the grounds that she thought that he was reaching for a concealed weapon.
.. a hugely refreshing South African novel … Heyns has a knack for building clear, expressive prose like a watchmaker fitting together the workings of a timepiece.
… Heyns … is an extraordinary wordsmith who delights in the potential of the English language’s variety and for whom every sentence presents an exercise in balance.
Extract from The Typewriter’s Tale
The James family arrived in August, pleading exhaustion from their travels, but otherwise more cheerful than Frieda had yet seen them as a family. They brought with them their daughter Margaret Mary, known as Peggy, and their son Henry, known as Harry. Frieda thought that Peggy and Harry suggested a child-like jollity and chumminess altogether absent in the bearers of these names, and preferred to refer to them as Miss James and Mr Harry respectively.
...Compelling and at times very moving, this is a daring novel, in which Michiel Heyns takes a series of literary risks. ... Bodies Politic resonates on a number of levels: on an intellectual level as a meditation on perspective in history; on a historical-political level as a study of the relationship between activism and family;on an emotional level as a reflection on love, guilt, loyalty and the difficulty to truly forgive. It deserves to resonate at the bookshop sales counter .
Michiel Heyns's fourth novel, Bodies Politic, should be taken up as required reading in creative writing courses because it shows the economies of novelistic art in a way that is clear, instructive and a pleasure to read. ...
Bodies Politic is a fictional feast.
Extract from Bodies Politic
Sunday 8 April 1928
…funny, although never without a powerful underlying tension… excellent.’
Heyns’s style – his dry, funny scrutiny of his characters, his narrator’s self-effacing and slightly self-mocking personal insights, his ability to convey the grainy texture of even the simplest emotion – makes Lost Ground an unmitigated novelistic joy to stumble into.
It’s remarkable, and you should not only read it but buy a copy as you will want to look into it again. It’s hard to know how Michiel Heyns does it – part magician, part juggler and fine linguist, he presents a novel that is as mysteriously alluring, yet as simple as the photo of some dorp street on the cover. It has something of the quality of a John Meyer painting: unpretentious, familiar and the light is right.
Michiel Heyns has fast become one of South Africa’s most respected novelists. His latest book, Lost Ground, is among the finest to have been published in the last few years. Well-written, engaging and almost perfectly paced, the book stands above many of its coeval. M Blackman, The Sunday Independent
Heyns’ venture into the literary thriller is moving and humane.
Exciting … Read this book.
‘[Heyns] is as intent on the language and the way he writes as he is to explore and go places that will thrill and engage the reader.’
[Lost Ground] has all the hallmarks of a great novel: murder, sexual tension, racial conflict and the existential angst of a South African grappling with returning to the country of his birth after a long time living abroad.’
Extract from Lost Ground
The Queen’s Hotel has clung onto its name, but, like a widow cutting loose in middle age, has in every other respect gaily abandoned its former identity.
Invisible Furies is rich and layered, its utter grimness embedded into a sparkling plot in a spectacular place. Heyns’ fluid writing, his management of tension and the slow release of information make it a book suited to people with a taste for plot and intrigue, and yet this is deeply satisfying literary fiction offering meditations on the endlessly fascinating topic of the nature of beauty.Karin Schimke: The Cape Times
Extract from Invisible Furies
To tote a suitcase in Paris is to court the contempt of the natives. Parisians never go anywhere – why should they? – and despise anyone who does. That’s why they’ve arranged for a flight of stairs at every Metro exit, to break the spirit of anyone hobbled with a suitcase, and to ensure that the unwelcome traveller will arrive out of breath and red of face, in sweaty contrast with the Parisians, who step out of the Metro as unruffled as if fresh from a scented dressing-room.
He stood around for a moment, clearly wanting a conversation, but I kept on reading as if he weren’t there. (I seem fated to read James under Cedric’s baleful stare.)
After about five seconds of silence, he said, ‘Thought you said you was gonna work.’
‘Yes, I did. And I am,’ I said, not looking up.
‘You call that working? Just reading, like?’
‘Yes I do. This is my work.’
‘Yes. Reading and writing.’
‘So what yer write about?’
‘About what I’ve read.’
‘Why d’yer write about what you’ve read?’
‘So other people can read what I’ve written.’
By now I’d given up even the pretence of reading. Cedric’s not unlike a dog in this respect: the more you ignore him, the more he nudges you for attention.
‘Right. And then they write about what they’ve read what you’ve written?’
‘That is correct.’
He looked at me in disbelief. ‘So when does it stop?’
‘When does what stop?’
‘The readin’ of the writin’ about the readin’ and the writin’ about the readin’ of the writin’ about the reading.’
‘I suppose it will stop when people stop reading and writing, which, come to think of it, would seem to be sometime soon.’
‘Bleedin’ good thing, ’n all. You know what it reminds me of? Listen, when I was a nipper me old man bought me a pair of white mice, the only thing he ever bought me ’n all, and they were at it all the time, squealin’ and bonking, and it only took them a week and they had twelve little mice and then next thing the little ones started bonkin’ and then they had little mice and so on and on until in the end the whole house was full of bleedin’ bonkin’ mice and we had to drown the lot of ’em in a bucket.’
‘Are you suggesting that all literary scholars should be drowned in a bucket?’‘If that’s what you call ’em, and if that’s the only way to stop ’em, I reckon yeh, drown the cunts.'