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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


ERASMUS-ALT, Joanita  and  VAN COLLER, H.P.. S.J. Naudé's The alphabet of birds (2011) - A hybrid between the novel and the short story volume. (Part 2). Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2017, vol.57, n.2-1, pp.459-478. ISSN 2224-7912.

In the first part of this two-part study, S.J. Naudé's The alphabet of birds (2015) - A hybrid between the novel and the short story, the focus was on the reception of this volume of short stories (also in international context). In this second part the focus is on the thematic node of this book and on the ways in which it is developed and repeated. The central theme in Naude's text is the depiction of displaced persons who in a postmodern world must learn to cope with bereavement. This is constituted through images of illness, physical decay and pain, alienation and insecurity as far as sexual identity is concerned. In order to arrive at acceptance, characters must undergo a radical process which entails the crossing of a boundary which is simultaneously a form of detachment. Van Gennep (1960:10-11, 21) identifies three liminal phases: physical detachment as the preliminal phase, transformation (the liminal phase) and reintegration as a transformed person. In all of the stories in Naude's book, there is only one main character. Usually there is limited room for character development in a short story, but due to the length of Naude's stories his character develops markedly. This main character is indeed transformed and at the end of the book he has undergone a process of initiation and in a sense has undergone a process of Jungian individuation (cf. Van Coller 2006:103). This process is in fact the central theme which is developed in all of the stories, but also in the book as a whole which renders it as akin to a novel and is typical of a prose cycle. In the first part of this study the possible ways to create unity have been discussed theoretically. In the second part these proposed methods of creating unity amongst stories (inter alia the succession of stories, titles, spaces, characterisation, narrative situations, structural patterns and endings) are used as a hermeneutical tool in the interpretation process. The conclusion of this study is that all of the stories in Naudé's volume of short stories are bound together in a subtle way and complement each other. "In a certain sense these stories create a secret alphabet which the reader must decipher" (Viljoen 2011:6). This rewriting almost constitutes a palimpsest with several layers that entails a creative interpretation process for the reader in order to really understand the text. This active participation influences the reader to ponder the depth of loss and bereavement. Whether the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns has erred in not awarding this book with the prestigious Eugène Marais Prize remains an open question which will only be answered in times to come. Without a doubt however, The alphabet of birds (2011), is a rich and rewarding book with nuances that only careful scrutiny and rereading can bring to the fore.

Keywords : S.J. Naudé; The alphabet of birds; boundaries; liminality; hybrid genre; coherence; autonomy; short story cycle; composite novel; coherence markers.

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