Touchdown for Reservoir Boks

Kaapstad Karma-Polisie Ontmoet die Bokke by Louis de Villiers (Queillerie)

Rugby writer and Asian slasher-movie fan Louis de Villiers’s debut novel is a book you can certainly judge by its good-looking cover. There are some frames of graphic novel-style ­colourful illustrations: a flame-haired Springbok diving over the line to score a try, a ghost ship and then some ultraviolent scenes of baddies being sorted out.

There is also a useful speech bubble on the back, warning in caps: “This %&*^#* book is not for %&*^#* sensitive readers!”

Inside he has no use for the euphemistic %&^@.

As was helpfully pointed out recently in an article in Afrikaans Sunday newspaper Rapport, where De Villiers is a senior rugby writer: “In the 245 pages, ‘fuck’ and variants thereof, as in ‘sex fucking sounds’, is used 200 times. ‘Shit’ appears about 90 times. There are several bald references to the male sexual organ and seven to the female one”, plus 18 instances of blasphemy.

The review confirms the often patronising view that Afrikaans is such a lekker language to swear in by quoting a sentence it describes as “one of the roughest ‘swear sentences’ ever in any language”: “ ’You dumb, stupid, moronic, imbecilic snail-snot of a fish head of a pig arse of a orangutan cunt of an excuse for a brother,’ Australian thug Mike ­Bonavita scolds his twin brother Joey.”

De Villiers, who was initially a bit irritated by the slightly breathless shock-and-horror tone of the article, told me wryly: “I guess the shit review will probably sell several books — the market for kak and fok is probably larger than what the reviewer thought.”

Terrifying taal
And the response to the book’s violence and swearing? “I’ve had a proper earful about it. My very own Sex Pistols moment, can you believe, at age 50. Take that, midlife crisis! Anyway, some people will always complain and I wasn’t going to have bergies and Russian gangsters talk standard Afrikaans simply to assuage a moral minority that’s complicated my life since birth.”

If Tom Waits could speak Afrikaans, he would have sounded like the seriously witty and self-deprecating De Villiers, whose rugby writing has a cult following not only for its insight into and passion for the game, but also for its intelligent literary and pop-culture references and, of course, his ability to make his words sing, dance and side-step like Gio Aplon.

“Until I finished Kaapstad Karma-Polisie, my tiny degree of infamy was based on my sports reporting and semi-legendary capacity for partying, my two areas of presumed expertise,” De Villiers says.

Karma-Polisie is not his first attempt at writing a novel. “Every time I’ve fallen in love, I’ve written at least three decent opening chapters of unfinished novels to impress the woman in question. And I’ve been in love often. This time I fortunately fell for the character Sussie Middernag [Sister Midnight]. Which meant if I wanted to see her again, I had to ­finish the bloody story.”

Back to the back cover, which accurately promises that the book will make you “guffaw, shudder, cheer and vomit”. De Villiers says: “I pumped everything way up. Some of the events obviously happened in real life, but I’m hoping the cartoon vibe distracts people from attaching characters to real people. And even those scandals that did happen in real life never happened within four crazy months. But almost all the characters are completely fictional.”

The characters are so compelling it is hard to believe that most of them were not based on real people. “Only Uncle Roy Irvine and Flip Geldenhuys are based on real people. Uncle Roy is a tribute to my rugby mentor, Ian McIntosh, who I trust won’t sue me as his portrait’s rather flattering.

“And Flip is based on my good journo buddy Dale Granger, in the years before he met his girlfriend Christina, who cleaned up his act and possibly added two decades to his life. Dale approves of Flip. And Dale actually did challenge the Wallaby wing Wendell Sailor to race the cheetah at Spier Estate. Big Dell refused, having other things on his mind at the time, such as a rugby Test.”

Different beats
Partly naming this “rugby thriller” after Karma Police, the third single on Radiohead’s album OK Computer, referencing hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa on page one, plus mentions throughout the novel of dubmeister King Tubby, jazz god Miles Davis and the Nigerian father of Afrobeat, Fela Kuti, say something about the author’s music obsession. Just how bad is it?

“I mentioned them to dissociate myself from all the crap tunes I was compelled to mention elsewhere, this being a thriller with a rugby backdrop. As far as music is concerned, I’m actually embarrassed to admit the extent of my obsession. I’m a hoarder, really, and my tastes run from Hildegard von Bingen to Zola Jesus, from Satchmo to Frank Ocean.”

Any literary influences for this rugby thriller? “I’d have loved to be Pynchon or Salinger but I’m way too dof, so I’m just hoping to make fart jokes and explosions a valid genre.”

Like any excellent thriller, Karma-Polisie moves at breakneck speed and has a cracker of a plot. It is also a very visual book.

“The directors Takashi Miike and Park Chan-Wook, who’ve both filmed manga comics mind-blowingly, influenced Kaapstad Karma-Polisie much more than any writer I could name. And, of course, Mister ­Tarantino, who pointed the way to those manic ­Oriental masters in the first place.”

It should be translated (“Yes, hopefully,” he promises) and made into a movie, say more Reservoir Boks than Invictus. “I’d love it, but it’s written for a Korean director and their rugby went down the toilet over the past 20 years. Plus, where do you find a white man that could swing a kusarigama [a martial arts weapon] and act? I don’t see it happening, sadly.”

Fans of his rugby writing and now his book are salivating at the thought of a next book — is he going to satisfy them?

“Yup, except that the sequel to Kaapstad Karma-Polisie will have to wait. My next heroes will be crap at violence and better at seduction and hopefully it also rubs off on my personal life. I am crap at violence anyway. Mind you, I’m not exactly the kingpin of brassiere
unclasping either.”

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Advertising

READ IT IN FULL: Ramaphosa’s address on the extension of...

This is the full address given by President Cyril Ramaphosa on April 9

Meet the doctor leading Africa’s fight to contain the coronavirus...

Dr Matshidiso Moeti’s father helped to eliminate smallpox. Now she’s leading Africa’s efforts against the coronavirus

Stella set to retain her perks

Communication minister will keep Cabinet perks during her two months of special leave

Covid-19 grounds Nigeria’s medical tourists

The country’s elites, including the president, travelled abroad for treatment but now they must use the country’s neglected health system

Press Releases

Rahima Moosa Hospital nursing college introduces no-touch facial recognition access system

The new system allows the hospital to enrol people’s faces immediately, using artificial intelligence, and integrates easily with existing access control infrastructure, including card readers and biometrics

Everyone’s talking about it. Even Kentucky

Earlier this year South African fried chicken fast-food chain, Chicken Licken®, launched a campaign for their wallet-friendly EasyBucks® meals, based on the idea of ‘Everyone’s talking about it.’

New energy mix on the cards

REI4P already has and will continue to yield thousands of employment opportunities

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world