Small Moving Parts
by Sally-Anne Murray (Kwela)
“Too many notes, Mozart,” Emperor Joseph II is purported to have said about The Marriage of Figaro. “Too many words,” say I to Sally-Ann Murray. Perhaps too many small moving parts.
This clever and disturbing book, a child’s eye view of a complex family — mother, two daughters and occasional father, living on the wrong side of the tracks — is too long, too detailed, too much. Each episode — and there are a lot of them; this is a very episodic story — is described in painstaking (and often pain-inducing) detail, until it’s just enough, already.
That said, though, it is also compelling, even if one finds oneself skipping a chunk or two. Somehow it succeeds in drawing the reader into wanting to know what happens next. The attraction is less the book’s strange, unlovely and unlovable protagonist and the more or less grotesque individuals who people her world than the fact that, in love, as she is, with words, Murray uses them to intensely evocative effect.
We follow Halley Murphy, formidably bright, eccentric, obsessive and perceptive beyond her years, from kindergarten to adulthood. We trail her, her sister Jen and mother Nora through the streets of a lushly evoked, minutely observed Durban and through the lives of the inhabitant of Ixia Court, the rundown block of flats she calls home.
Hers is not an enviable life — not in childhood, not in adolescence and not in a troubled adulthood. But it is interesting. And frightening. And filled with incident.
I did not love this book. But I couldn’t stop reading it.