The other side of cliched and repetitive headlines

Australian novelist Pauline Schokman’s novel about a “tumultuous week” in the life of a Melbourne doctor was published in August this year and is daringly titled The Other Side of Silence: A Novel. Last year, Linda Gask published The Other Side of Silence: A Psychiatrist’s Memoir of Depression, so maybe there’s some medical connection to the title?

Thriller-writer Phillip Kerr’s new novel is also titled The Other Side of Silence. It’s subtitled “A Bernie Gunther Thriller”, Gunther being the protagonist of this series; this novel is the 11th of them.

Did any of these authors realise they were borrowing from André Brink when he gave his 2003 novel that title? Brink’s The Other Side of Silence wasn’t one of his best, but it’s still in print.

And surely Brink was aware that the immediate echo of that title was a famous novel called The Other Side of Midnight. Sidney Sheldon’s blockbuster of sex and scandal was banned in the 1970s in South Africa. It was, however, one of those shit-hot titles regularly brought into the country by returning travellers (other faves were The World According to Garp and Myra Breckinridge) pleased to be able to wave around something a bit risqué, especially one carrying the extra, titillating imprimatur of the South African censors.

To ban something for sexual immorality and the like (rather than political dissidence or any view not fully in line with Christian national education and/or the moral regime of the apartheid state) was to give it a huge push on the underground market of smuggled books. I believe Jacqueline Susann benefited enormously from the censors’ decisions.

Titles are not subject to copyright, which is lucky for Frederick Forsyth, whose new memoir about his “life in intrigue” is named The Outsider. This title he shares with Albert Camus’s novel of 1942, a key work of fictional existentialism and one read all over the world by people learning French (it’s short, and the language is straightforward). Of course Camus’s original title was L’Etranger, with an added implication for its North African protagonist Meursault: in French, l’étranger can mean both “the stranger” and “the foreigner”.

SE Hinton wrote a famous and bestselling novel for teens called The Outsiders, but that at least had a pluralising “s” to distinguish it. The Outsider by Colin Wilson (a nonfiction study of, ahem, outsiders) didn’t; nor did either of the two movies of that name, or Penelope Williams’s “Amish romance”, The Outsider.

Perhaps Helen Zille, whose autobiography is about to emerge, should have reconsidered her title: as it stands, it’s the rather limp Not Without a Fight. If you can use and re-use others’ titles, she could have gone for The Other Side of Power, perhaps, or The Other Side of Cape Town? Wait — what’s on the other side of Cape Town? Just the sea … and then, eventually, Antarctica.

Subscribe to the M&G

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.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Author Shaun de Waal
Shaun De Waal

Shaun de Waal has worked at the Mail & Guardian since 1989. He was literary editor from 1991 to 2006 and chief film critic for 15 years. He is now editor-at-large. Recent publications include Exposure: Queer Fiction, 25 Years of the Mail & Guardian and Not the Movie of the Week.

Related stories


Subscribers only

Q&A Sessions: ‘I should have fought harder for SA vaccine’...

Professor Salim Abdool Karim talks to Nicolene de Wee about his responsibility as head of the ministerial advisory committee tasked with guiding the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Do you have to take the Covid-19 vaccine or not?

The South African law does not make it mandatory for citizens to be vaccinated, and the same will apply for Covid-19 immunisation. But experts say people still have the responsibility not to act recklessly — and they should follow Covid-19 health protocols

More top stories

Zuma won’t appear before Zondo commission on Monday, say his...

Last year the commission asked the Constitutional Court to force the former president to appear. Although ruling has not been made, the summons remains valid, but Zuma’s lawyers say they won’t honour it

Molefe blames Ramaphosa for Eskom’s woes in statement to Zondo...

Brian Molefe guns for Cyril Ramaphosa, alleging that the president’s relationship with Glencore was only a ploy to siphon money out of Eskom

Death and anxiety rife at matric marking centres as schools...

Education department delays 2021 academic year as the Covid-19 death and infection rates rise rapidly, but assures 2020 matrics that results will be released on time

Zondo commission: Lynne Brown reportedly says ‘eish’ when told of...

More allegations against Jacob Zuma put before the state capture commission, as the questions the former president will have to answer when he appears next week continue to stack up

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…