Isle by Claire Robertson
Jennifer de Klerk: Author Claire Robertson has her own unique style, a delicate and evocative prose that creates unexpected patterns and rhythms.
Isle, a two-part novel, is not so much a story as a journey through a sun-dappled forest. As you follow her thread of meaning you respond to moments of illumination.
She is a woman’s writer, exploring facets of femininity, women striving to become, pushing boundaries in what is ultimately a man’s world.
This is the common theme of the two widely disparate stories. Their other meeting point is an island, a place apart.
In the first story, Forth From This Place, it is an isle of women who choose to live without men, sufficient among themselves. It is the year 1289 and their choice is a constant thorn in the flesh of the town.
There is consternation when a man is washed up on their shores, but artist Mechthild seizes on him as a model for her Christ, an ancillary to the statue of the Madonna she wishes to carve.
Can women be artists, sculptors, painters? Can their talent be recognized, or must they bow always to domination? Ultimately, can they live apart from men? Can it be permitted?
Robertson has obviously done considerable research into the society of the times and the methods and techniques of sculpture and painting. Her descriptions are fascinating.
The second story, Uxo, set in the 20th century, tells the story of Lily Kinsella, a nurse who flew rescue missions to collect wounded soldiers during the war. A small group of women among the men, they were vulnerable, and some paid the price.
Now Lily and her male co-worker are assigned to a prison island to remove cannon and ammunition placed there during the war. It is isolated and remote. The tensions and connections between Lily and her protector Burge are complicated by those they meet, including teenage Iris and her prison warder father.
Again, Robertson has obviously done considerable research on the history of these war nurses and the work they did. It makes a telling and provocative story.
South African author Claire Robertson has written Under Glass, The Magistrate of Gower and The Spiral House.
Umuzi, Random House
Jennifer de Klerk is editor of Artslink.co.za