I was sent a copy of Eva Mazza’s ‘Sex, Lies & Stellenbosch’ by Jacana Press, to review, my first Book Review. Whilst I waded through the sex, and sex, and sex, I wondered how I would write this review, this being a family-friendly Blog. But it was right at the end that the message of the book was clear: no matter how terrible the life experiences one goes through, there is always growth and an opportunity to transform, and lead a better life, echoing my two ‘SwitchBitch’ books which I published last year. 

Author Eva lives in Stellenbosch, teaches drama, and has had a play performed at the Johannesburg Theatre. More information is not provided about her in the book, other than that this is her debut novel. 

Whilst I was reading the book, fast-paced, and hard to put down, no pun intended, I was looking for restaurant names and interactions, knowing Stellenbosch pretty well, in having studied there, and worked at the University after completing my B.Comm (Hons), and more recently, as a restaurant writer over the past ten years.

I had to laugh when page 1 of the book uses the word ‘crap’ twice, a word I used six times in my review to describe Chef Bertus Basson’s ‘Spek & Bone’ restaurant off Dorp Street in Stellenbosch. But the author does not mention this restaurant by name. She refers to the main proponent of the book, Jen Pearce, booking into the indulgent deluxe Delaire Graff Spa and Lodges, buying from its boutique, going for spa treatments, and eating in its main restaurant with a spectacular view, described as being load-shedding protected with its generators.  There is a finger pointed at the estate about its lush gardens, and watering during the severest drought the Cape has ever experienced, without giving the estate credit for its boreholes. Truth, Bean There, Caprice, and a popular (unnamed) sandwich restaurant on Long Street in Cape Town, and a (unnamed) popular pizza restaurant on Dorp Street in Stellenbosch, are further restaurants referred to. 

The story revolves around the crippling marriage of respected Stellenbosch winemaker John and his wife Jen Pearce, the former’s sex addiction, having affairs left, right, and centre, until Jen discovers him with his wine rep Patty, and puts two and two together that he is having an affair with her best friend Frankie.  Via lots of sex and a few lies, a chance meeting of psychologist Claudia at Delaire, leading to her being introduced to relationship guide Sharon and lawyer Leonard, Jen makes the brave decision to file for a divorce. There is a short reference to their daughter Birgit having had an affair with her University lecturer Pierre, and the hint that she may have graduated cum laude as a result. He loses his job when he is exposed as having had numerous affairs with his students, breaking a University rule.

A close friend of Jen, winefarm owner Lee, dies in a car crash in his Ferrari, reflecting the opulence and wealth of the Stellenbosch wine fraternity. He has left Jen money, allowing her to become financially independent. Married in Community of Property, she appoints her son Pete to manage the farm alongside her husband, and receives half the profit of the farm. She moves to Cape Town, buys a townhouse in Oranjezicht, and reconnects with a schoolfriend hunk Myron, who becomes her new beau. 

A year after the beginning of the end of her marriage, Jen looks back at how far she has come, having been given a second chance, which she grabbed with both hands. She hosts her 50th birthday party, to celebrate her transformation and new beginning, which includes restarting an interior design business. It is her speech at the party that will give every scorned and hurt woman and wife the courage to start again: ‘I’m not going to pretend that I wasn’t afraid. that I wasn’t crippled by the past. But I learned, I’m still learning, that the past is something that does not exist anymore. In fact, it had stopped existing for a very long time. But my journey has not only been about letting go, it’s been about letting go with love. It’s about acknowledging that whoever was in my life was there for a purpose, and that whatever happened in my life had happened for a reason. I have untold love, gratitude and affection for absolutely everyone whose life has touched mine…’.

Has Eva based this novel on her 22 years of living in Stellenbosch, and observing and experiencing the shenanigans of some university professors and rich wine farmers? That is for the reader to decide. But her spiritual and physical transformation is for real, giving every woman the message that a new transformed life is possible, despite the adversity of the past. I know, I have been there, and am loving my new life! 

Sex, Lies & Stellenbosch’, by Eva Mazza. MF Books Joburg. Jacana Media (Pty) Limited. 

Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.whalecottage.com/blog  Tel 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@WhaleCottage  Facebook:  click here