KZN’s literary vet isn’t one for the herd
IN line with the names of his first two volumes of short stories, Underberg author Tod Collins has titled his third anthology The Black Sheep Black Sheep.
Readers not as familiar with this mountain vet’s writings as I am might expect a series of James Herriotstyle yarns about vets, animals and weird owners.
Although several of the stories are indeed rollicking Herriot types, Collins has bravely — in my opinion — tackled topics that most of us shy away from. He has created stories around his and others’ experiences with depression and its related emotional conditions. I am delighted that while tackling such “black” issues he has stuck to his earlier recipe in shortstory writing by including snatches of humour and the inevitable twists in the tail.
This is the sort of book that is regaining popu larity among readers worldwide. Easy reading and suitable for bedsides or holidays, short stories satisfy languid readers seeking “instant gratification”. Nevertheless, I must mention that the depth of Collins’ writings has impressed my literary thirst. He has developed a writing skill and maturity that creates chapters that had me reading them twice to appreciate fully their subtleties. From being hoisted in a frontend loader to attend a mad beast to major surgery in a tropical downpour, being dragged into court cases, episodes of depression with surprising outcomes, South Africa’s greatest sheep theft, historic tales involving the siege of Ladysmith and 1863’s most epic raid into “Basutoland”, the subject matter is refreshingly diverse. If I were to choose my favourite story, surpris ingly I was most moved by Skip and Goom. This shared the experiences of the time when some white South African boys were conscripted into military service. It sadly reminded me of the divide between Afrikaner and Engelsman in those years. Again with a lovely twist in the tail.
I was tempted to consume the entire book when given a copy to review. Fortunately I took my time over a long weekend and thus savoured each story with greater appreciation. The accompanying sketches add to the book’s charm, although the author should perhaps take art lessons from Claudia McKenzie. Her charming cover should itself attract casual browsers.