The Shape of Him by Gill Schierhout

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The Shape of Him by Gill Schierhout

Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: A middle-aged, childless woman thinks that her life is all but over. Then part of her past appears out of the blue and turns her well-ordered but cheerless life upside down.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: June 2010
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099535775

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The story is told in the first person by Sara Highbury. She's running a small business in an efficient but rather detached fashion. She's all washed up. She starts to recount her earlier, happier life when it meant something to her. And the reader soon discovers that a diamond digger called Herbert was - and still is - the love of her life. And here Schierhout gives us a taster of the hard and dirty work digging for stones (they're never called diamonds by the workers apparently). The danger and precarious nature of the work is laid bare. But Herbert seemed to be a natural. Why?

Sara tells the reader all about their courtship and how they lived together as man and wife. He seemed equally besotted with her and I did wonder why they didn't do the natural thing and get married. So, apparently, did Sara but all becomes clear as the story unfolds. It is soon obvious that Herbert's health is not 100 percent. He is suffering from some form of degenerative illness. His whole future looks bleak. He has to be admitted to a hospital. Sara visits now and again. The whole situation seems deeply upsetting for both of them.

Then a can of worms is suddenly opened, in the shape of a visitor for Sara. A young girl with a hazy past. She needs a safe and secure home and Sara fitted the bill. She's also shaken out of her rigid daily timetable. Is she coping with girlish laughter and all that goes with it? Is she able to care for someone else's child?. What could a childless, middle-aged woman offer? You may be surprised. Sara is also a canny businesswoman. She'd been able to keep back a 'stone' or two from Herbert, as a sort of insurance, a sort of pension, if you like. So financially, she's set up. She may be able to keep a sold roof over her head, feed and clothe herself, but deep down inside, she's dead. And here Schierhout describes on page after page, Sara's arid, barren life. I really felt for this woman. There is a strong sense of melancholy throughout this novel. Plenty of what might have been, if only ...

The novel is set in the early 1900s. South Africa had its share of social and economic problems them. (Some would say what has changed?). Living there then was certainly not for the faint-hearted. Although I found the character of Sara rather severe, she did show some humour now and again. For example, when talking with her young, rather headstrong charge, she admonishes her with And in this here house, young lady, we shall honour the Ten Commandments we shall. When the good Lord gives you your own personal tablets of stone, you tell me what these are ...

A central theme is the keeping of a secret, or secrets. This has a catastrophic effect on several people. I enjoyed the second part of the novel better as the twists and turns were totally unexpected. It was breathtakingly original at the very end and it really did make me stop and think. The whole crux of the story could be as relevant today. Recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals you might also like to try Twenty Chickens for a Saddle by Robyn Scott.

Buy The Shape of Him by Gill Schierhout at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Shape of Him by Gill Schierhout at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Shape of Him by Gill Schierhout at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Shape of Him by Gill Schierhout at Amazon.com.


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