Laaste Dans, Drienie by Steve Hofmeyr, Zebra Press, 2014.
You know Steve Hofmeyr. Everyone knows Steve Hofmeyr. He’s the Afrikaans actor, singer, songwriter, populariser of the mullet and, if you were born in the 80s, probably your father. More recently he has started making a name for himself as a ‘political’ ‘activist’ – a phrase so unsuited to this particular subject that it makes most sensible people yearn for Steve’s good old be-mulleted days.
Feel its glory...
Well, the multifaceted Steve has decided to turn his attention to prose writing, and I was shocked to learn that Laaste Dans, Drienie is in fact his fifth (FIFTH) novel. Where he finds the time between singing Die Stem to disaffected Afrikaners, making snide Facebook statuses and being totally-racist-just-not-racist-enough-to-get-into-trouble to write a novel is beyond me. Perhaps Steve is some kind of übermensch?
Bask in his icy stare.
That is, happily, not at all the case. If you were wondering why I’ve spent so long talking about Steve and not about his book, that’s because the book is awful and I don’t really feel like talking about it. But we must soldier on, so here goes:
Laaste Dans, Drienie follows police spokesperson Muller Joubert as he goes to investigate a mysterious call – a 91 year old lady has been accused of murder most foul. Joubert is also in love with his colleague Sonja and a good quarter of the book sees him pining away over her, considering poisoning her boyfriend, being angry at her for not liking him and so on. This doesn’t matter at all since it never pays off, and was obviously shoehorned into the plot to create some semblance of romantic tension. In fact, nothing about Muller Joubert’s tale matters at all. The real meat of the story is the tale that Drienie Engelbrecht, the murder suspect, tells him as she waits for death in the nursing home.
Her story begins in the 1940s at the dawn of Afrikaner nationalism, and is set in Pretoria. Our characters are Drienie (known as Betanie in the past) and the two Bremer brothers – smart, athletic, intelligent, blonde and blue-eyed. They do well in school, they help out around the house, and are just generally the perfect Afrikaner. They are also members of the Ossewabrandwag, the far-right nationalist organisation. If your vision is beginning to fade to sepia, do not panic. This is a natural reaction to this level of Afrikaner nostalgia. By the way, we never really find out why they joined the OB. And that’s one of my problems with this novel – the characters never make organic decisions – you can almost see the strings being pulled to put them into situations advantageous to the plot.
Even the cover is sepia.
Dawid Bremer falls in love (sort of) with Drienie and starts taking her out on dates after months of pursuit. He is very aloof and forgets a few of their appointments. Drienie is upset but doesn’t do anything. Jurgen, the other Bremer, also falls in love and lo and behold, we have a love triangle. Jurgen is more sensitive, and takes her on romantic adventures, like climbing onto the roof of a cinema and dancing. Drienie has not yet chosen between the two, and still feels like she owes Dawid something because if she didn’t the plot would stop. One evening Jurgen seduces her and they have sex in the shed. Dawid bursts in for no reason (this is a locked shed on the other side of their property in the middle of the night – again the plot must be moved along). The next day Dawid rapes Drienie. He feels bad but not too bad and he doesn’t have time to worry about that nonsense as he and his brother are being inducted into the Stormjaers, the further-right, even-more-nationalist militant wing of the OB (translated: Storm Troopers. I kid you not). Why, you might ask. Who cares, answers the novel.
Is that you, Paul Kruger?
The Second World War is approaching climax and the OB doesn’t like the idea of joining the fight on the British side one bit. That isn’t in itself the problem. The problem, really, is that they do want to join the fight on the other side. Here, you might be left completely unsurprised to hear that Afrikaners joined the SS. In the novel Jurgen and Dawid are two such Afrikaners – though once again they don’t really make the choice, it just kind of happens, and they just roll with it. To qualify for the OB-SS exchange program they must prove themselves against some other random Stormjaer guys that we haven’t met yet and thus don’t care about. There are only two slots available so we know the brothers are both going. Their test is to bare-knuckle box, naked, in an ice truck because that will be adequate preparation for the harsh winter of the eastern front. Obviously the Bremers win and off they go to shoot ‘Kakis’ (Surprisingly the only racism in this novel is directed at Brits, and for a few pages, Italians), with nary a thought for poor Drienie stuck at home.
I would like you to note that we are now two thirds into the novel. This absurd exposition has been stretched over a 130 odd pages. It feels like Steve had a word count to reach, and so Tannie Drienie can’t tell the whole story in one sitting, or skip over the shitty parts like when she was working in the kitchen, or get to the real point (in case you’ve forgotten, she’s BEEN ACCUSED OF MURDER), and the flashback chapters (i.e. those that contain the actual story) are divided by longwinded bits about Joubert typing Drienie’s story, trying to make it a book (which he doesn’t, because holy shit this is a bad novel), and thinking about Sonja with the single-minded obsession of someone who wears other people’s skins.
Dawid comes back after abandoning his SS friends and his brother, and tells everyone that Jurgen was shot, and that he buried his brother with his own two hands in the cold mud of Stalingrad. When he returns he finds out his father has died, which makes him sad but not too sad, and that he now has a son. Drienie forgives him for raping her and they get married and live a boring and uneventful life together. Drienie, after a few chapters of this, gets a call from the Owerste (captain, I guess) of the OB. I didn’t mention this before, but Drienie also held down a summer job as the secretary of the OB in the past. Why? Because the plot needed this to happen: she is told to collect secret OB documents and to burn them so that the police can’t find them. She dutifully does so, not considering that maybe she’s busy helping Nazis evade justice.
Anyways, she finds a telegram from Jurgen sent a few years earlier, proving (PLOT TWIST) that he didn’t die (which we knew already, so not really a plot twist). Burning up with anger she stabs Dawid to death in his sleep with a pencil. Their young son witnesses this, but decides to stay quiet about it for SIXTY years. When he is asked why he didn’t tell someone earlier he says, “I don’t know,” which is probably the most honest part in this novel. We then find out that Dawid was infertile, which is why his previous wife left him (oh, didn’t the narrator mention earlier that Dawid had a wife before Drienie? Guess it slipped his mind. When did that happen, you ask? Fuck you, that’s when), proving that Jurgen was in fact the father. And that wraps up the most convoluted episode of Jerry Springer yet.
This novel is bad. Very bad. The writing is dull, the story is ridiculous, the characters are zero-dimensional, and it goes on and on and on. Page after page flies by without a single redeeming quality. It’s almost as if... if it wasn’t for Steve’s awful ‘controversial’ public persona no one would care about him and his desperate flailing against obscurity and irrelev-
Oh... I think I get it now.
Well played, Steve.