328pp., paperback, Cape Town, 2008.
First published in 2008 in Afrikaans as Die Boek van Toeval en Toeverlaat. This novel won the M-Net Prize, the W.A. Hofmeyr Prize and the University of Johannesburg Prize.
Helena Verbloem, a Cape Town lexicographer, is hired to assist expert Theo Verwey in compiling a dictionary of old Afrikaans. Then her precious shell collection is stolen from her flat.
"In this novel Ingrid Winterbach demonstrates her brilliant and distinctive command of language as well as her lyric sensitivity to the fragility and transience of human existence. What starts as a story about the loss of a personal shell collection becomes an almost fugue-like meditation on the bearable and unbearable losses that people suffer in every aspect of experience: the erotic, the family, the artistic, and in their relation to time, the transcendent and the other. As a shell preserves the sound of the sea, the work preserves the capacity for an all-embracing mourning. It is a song that marks an important moment of psychological maturity in Afrikaans literature, and not without the corrective of a delightfully ironic and self-mocking humour. Winterbach is the kind of writer any literature could be envious of." Marlene van Niekerk, author of Triomf and Agaat
"Like many of us, Helena seeks answers in origins, in the stories that science and religion have to offer. We tell stories, we do science, and yet these are things which only teach us more about the un-narratable, the un-catalogable. We cut at the joints but the cut is never clean. Winterbach brings the reader face to face with their own apophenic impulses to find patterns of significance in randomly assembled fragments. We look for clues, we hope to connect the dots that Helena, caught up in her obsessions, cannot, to find the lost shells, to restore order." Jesse Miller, Full-Stop
Ingrid Winterbach is the author of Voorouer. Pilgrim. Berg; Karolina Ferreira (M-Net Prize and Old Mutual Literature Prize); Buller se Plan (W.A.Hofmeyr Prize), Niggie (Hertzog Prize); Die Benederyk (M-Net Prize, translated as The Road of Excess); Vlakwater (translated as The Shallows); Die Aanspraak van Lewende Wesens (winner of the M-Net Award, the University of Johannesburg Literary Prize, the Hertzog Prize, the WA Hofmeyr Prize and the Great Afrikaans Novel Prize and translated as It Might Get Loud), and Die Troebel Tyd (translated as The Troubled Times of Magrieta Prinsloo).