Rahla Xenopoulos’ “Tribe” is a brilliant novel about extraordinary friendships.

Tribe cover‘“Everyone is in love on MDMA, but this is where it peaks, the big blow out, Ibiza, 1997… the hedonist’s holiday…”’ Amid the euphoric, drug-fuelled highs, the raves, and the beach, a group of six people from different parts of the world form the deepest bond of friendship there is, becoming a ‘tribe’, apparently unshakeable in their love for each other. ‘“Sometimes in life there are moments when everything shifts.’’’ This is the premise for the stunning new novel, Tribe, by Rahla Xenopoulos, which shifts the reader.

Olivia is the London ‘it-girl’, a beautiful blonde, with expensive tastes, but deep emotions. Her husband, Benjy, indulges her, knowing he could never find someone better, and that she chose him, even though she’d resisted at first.

‘“I can’t fall in love with you, Benjamin Stone,” she’d said, sipping a mojito back in London. “Why not?” he’d laughed, knowing she would. “Because you have the attention span of a Sunday morning.” “What do you mean?” “You’ll be easy fun, but inevitably you’ll become Monday.” She’d been wrong; he’d prove himself as constant as eight days a week.’

Jude is the shy, Oxford-educated psychiatrist with a penchant for strumming a guitar. His partner, Tselane, is a South African who was exiled to London as a young child; someone who does not identify with the country of her birth. Brothers Hannes and Pierre were both involved in the Apartheid struggle movement. After becoming a member of the tribe, Hannes finally gains the courage to divorce his wife, admitting he’s gay, and escaping to the bush to start a luxury game lodge, but at the same time alienating his daughter. Pierre becomes a hotshot marketing executive, but balances his life with surfing while condemning the shallow nature of his profession.

Together, the tribe grows to depend on each other, forging beautiful and rare friendships; the kind that is the envy of those who will never experience it. But, five years after their Ibiza holiday, the group is torn apart. Jude has a drug overdose; unable to stick to the recreational, free love-type highs of his friends. Tselane bans most of the group, except for Olivia, from contacting Jude, to rid him of his triggers.

But, twelve years on, another knock at death’s door forces the tribe together at Hannes’ lodge, where they all have to confront their own demons, and examine the damage they’ve inflicted on one another. Feelings of guilt, abandonment, resentment, and jealousy spill out, as the six friends try to resurrect their friendship, and save each other. This group, this tribe, which considered themselves as gods and goddesses, turn out to be just as messy as everyone else.

The book is a testament of to extraordinary writing; the descriptions of its characters are rich, with an unusual and beautiful turn of phrase. In addition, the story is uniquely set against a soundtrack (yes, it’s not only movies that can do this). Coldplay’s “Yellow”, Faithless’ “Insomnia”, Jeff Buckley’s “Halleluja”, Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life”, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”; these are just some of the songs that create a visceral response in the reader. I could hear each track in my head as I read the words. The novel is overwhelming and exhilarating.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith has called Tribe “The Less Than Zero of 2015”, referring to Brett Easton Ellis acclaimed 1985 novel of the name, about a group of disillusioned, rich, drugged-up youths in Los Angeles. How did she get an international music start to read this book? He’s a friend, Xenopoulos causally explains during our interview (podcast underneath). The book also reminded me of The Breakfast Club, something she agrees with.

Tribe is a story about confronting the darkest parts of oneself, about the rarest of relationships – real friendship. It’s not only the characters who are forced to confront their painful mistakes; the reader inevitably has to do the same. Despite its comparison to Less Than Zero, this novel is fresh, uniquely engaging, and unlike any I’ve read before.

Notable passage:

“The first wave of euphoria washes over and through the six people in the room as a deep bond develops between them.

And here’s the thing. If you were looking down at them from the Ibizan sky, you would know: they can do anything, be whoever it is they choose to be. This is just the beginning of the trip, the night, their friendship, of their entire lives.

Laughing and touching one another, they walk out the door. Benjamin grabs a pair of ‘70s sunglasses; white frames with dark lenses. He places them on Olivia’s face; she looks like Woodstock, 1969. Pierre looks at her and says, “Different drugs. When I met you in London, you were on coke, the ME drug. Now you’re on E, the US drug.

Outside it’s the summer of love all over again. People are popping pills called white doves, cars have smiley stickers, and strangers embrace. Boys sport green Afros and girls in fake fur bikinis dance in the street. This generation is going to get it right; they have better drugs.

Fuelled by serotonin as abundant as their beauty, they walk into the night.”

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Tribe is published by Umuzi.

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“Spectre” – a tried and tested Bond-recipe that’s as entertaining as ever.

He’s more like a superhero than a superspy. His tailored suit remains impeccable even as a building collapses, taking him with it. His leather Oxfords maintain an impossible grip on the landing skids of a helicopter in tailspin. Women he’s known for five minutes will drop their clothes after one smouldering look, and the delivery of that iconic line: “Bond, James Bond.”

The latest instalment in the 007-franchise, Spectre, is a tried and tested recipe, but one that isn’t stale. Yet. The story and action-packed sequences don’t throw up too many surprises, but still, Bond trumps any of the other spy franchises like Mission Impossible and the Bourne series. Perhaps it’s Daniel Craig in the title role (who has said he’s hanging up the tuxedo after this, his fourth Bond film). Perhaps it’s the familiarity with things like the shaken, unstirred Martinis, gadgets created by the techie, Q, or the ubiquitous, beautiful Bond-girl.

In Spectre, Bond’s childhood past returns to haunt him. While on an unsanctioned mission in Mexico, Bond kills two terrorists and steals the ring off another, Marco Sciarra. The ring is emblazoned with the image of an octopus. Back in London, it’s revealed James went to Mexico after receiving a posthumous video message from the former M (Judi Dench), who was killed in the previous film. The current M (Ralph Fiennes), however, is less than impressed with Bond’s trail of destruction, and suspends him indefinitely.

Closer to home, M faces an uphill battle with the clearly sinister C (James Scott of Moriarty-fame in Sherlock), who heads up a privately back Joint Intelligence Service. The JIS is looking to get rid of the “archaic” 00-programme, and for Britain to join “Nine Eyes”, a global surveillance and intelligence co-operation initiative, which would give unprecedented access to citizens’ private data and correspondence.

With the help of trusty MI5 secretary, Moneypenny (Naomi Harris), Bond heads to Rome where he attends Sciarra’s funeral. The assassin’s beautiful wife, Lucia (Monica Bellucci), informs James of a secret society, called “Spectre”, whose emblem is the stylised Octopus, the tentacles of which reach across the world. James covertly attends a meeting of Spectre, but is caught off guard when the group’s leader, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), suddenly welcomes him by name.

Bond escapes and seeks help from a former Quantum member (from the previous film, Quantum Solace). The dying criminal strikes a deal with Bond: protect his daughter, psychologist Dr Madeline Swann (Léa Seydoux), and in turn, she will take him to L’Americain, which will lead him to Spectre. The two will have to travel to multiple locations in a race against the clock (what else) in order to take down Spectre. But as Bond continues to draw nearer Oberhauser, he discovers a disturbing link to a past he’s all but forgotten.

Seydoux is not a new face on the silver screen (she has starred in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Inglourious Basterds, and Midnight in Paris), but brings a freshness to the role of the Bond-girl.  The young French actress portrays Swann as a strong beauty, with a more innocent vulnerability (and who can resist that?). In Christoph Walz, director Sam Mendes has created another great villain, although it feels like the boundaries could have been pushed a little further to present a more multi-dimensional evil genius.

Spectre is exactly the kind of pure escapist entertainment you expect from a Bond film, though it doesn’t have the unexpected and brilliant sentimentality of Skyfall. Bar Sean Connery, Daniel Craig has been my favourite Bond, despite my initial reluctance. However, it’s certainly time for a fresh face and I’ll throw my name in the hat for Idriss Elba to take over. The franchise needs another shaken-not-stirred reboot.

 

Director: Sam Mendes

Cast: Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Christoph Waltz

Rating: 4 out of 5

“Grandma” is a deliciously acerbic and surprisingly feel-good indie film about the divisive topic of abortion.

“Where can you get a reasonably priced abortion in this town?” That’s the problem facing Elle Reid (Lily Tomlin) in the film, Grandma, when her 18-year old granddaughter, Sage (Julia Garner), shows up on her doorstep. Out of the blue. Pregnant. Broke. Desperate. An abortion costs a whopping $630, and Sage needs the money before the end of the day, in order to make the only clinic appointment available for some time. The problem is that Elle (a famous lesbian, feminist poet) has just cleared her debt, and turned her credit cards into a wind chime decorating her porch. Obviously there is no other choice but to set out in Elle’s vintage Dodge Royal and hit up her friends and acquaintances for money.

The quest takes them both on a day-long journey with memories that will last them a lifetime. The duo first visits Sage’s “kind-of” boyfriend, Cam (Natt Wolff), who had promised to help get the money. One of the best scenes in the film sees Elle beating up Cam with his own hockey stick in reaction to the stonehead’s lackadaisical attitude towards taking responsibility.

Abortion is a divisive topic, particularly in the United States right now. But while this is the plot device that carries the story, the film is about much more than that. Elle and Sage learn about each other, examine their past mistakes, and celebrate their personal triumphs. Elle is forced to face the pain of losing her long-time partner, Violet, while Sage must confront her strained relationship with her highly-strung mother and successful businesswoman, Judy (Marcia Gay Harden).

Grandma is reminiscent of other oddball indie films about physical and personal journeys, like Paper Towns, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, or Juno. Despite dealing with something that is intensely emotive – reproductive rights – the film is surprisingly ‘feel-good’, perhaps because it doesn’t try to be preachy, judgmental, or prescriptive. The plot is pro-choice but the story is not so much about abortion as it is about familial relationships, loss, regrets, and redemption.

As the day progresses, scenes in which Elle wreaks havoc (such as throwing a hilarious tantrum in a coffee shop which she discovers has replaced a much cheaper abortion clinic) turn to ones that highlight a life that has seen much heartache. One of the people she asks for cash is a former lover Karl (Sam Elliot). There is immense tenderness and anguish in the way they recall the damage they did to each other decades ago, and how past decisions resonate forever.

Lily Tomlin is superb and shows why she is a nonpareil actress. Elle is no ordinary grandmother. She is incorrigible, grouchy, and acerbically outspoken, but her love for Sage is incomparable. Her humour is caustic, but it’s clear there is pain and deep sorrow just beneath the surface. Sage is a break-out role for Julia Garner, one she plays with finesse. Marcia Gay Harden is one of those annoying “I’m perfect so you should be too”-kind of mothers. Also look out for a cameo by Orange is the New Black’s Laverne Cox, as a tattoo artist called “Deathy”.

Elle’s cutting dialogue makes the story come across as quirky and lighthearted, and yet, it has an emotional force that lingers long after the credits have finished rolling. Grandma is a stunning character study that is sharp, eloquent, and beautifully authentic.

Director: Paul Weitz

Cast: Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Sam Elliot, Marcia Gay Harden, Sam Elliot, Laverne Cox

Rating: 4½ out of 5

 

SA release date: 13 November 2015