Jani Confidential is a fascinating memoir by one of South Africa’s most (in)famous columnists, Jani Allan. Her story is captivating. Hers is a tragedy of near Shakespearian proportion, a tale of dazzling potential wasted and lost for decades. It is a deftly drawn portrait of South Africa in the 1980’s. It tells of wealth, power and betrayal. These elements make it a good read, but what makes it great, is the diamond brilliance of Jani’s writing.
Now and then in the 80’s I read Jani’s column, but it existed on the periphery of my attention. The only time that our worlds may have momentarily intersected would have been a few occasions when my aunt Maeve took me out. Maeve was hotel magnate, Sol Kersner’s PA, and she gave me memorable glimpses into that glamorous world. Like the eternal twilight of a casino, that world never felt very real. While Jani’s drama played out on newspaper headlines, I was distracted by the situation which found me twenty and pregnant by an Irishman who parted with the words “It’s your baby”. There was something sickening about the newspaper posters flashing past my view, and the tut tutting blood lust in that modern damnatio ad bestias. Reading through some current commentary on her, I sense that a few would like to see her thrown to the Roman circus again. Why?
The nail in the coffin of Jani’s reputation was the testimony of her former friend and flat mate, the astrologer and columnist Linda Shaw. At this point stop reading here, walk to the door of your bedroom and look through the keyhole (I tried this myself). How likely would it be for a pair of white buttocks to fall within your field of vision, let alone for that view to encompass the presence of two henchmen supposedly in the room at the same time? This multi faceted, multi talented lady was reduced to “Wasn’t there a scandal?” While reading and talking about her book, at least three people said that to me. The funny thing is that they couldn’t even remember what the scandal was. It may have been a long time coming but now we get to read Jani’s story.
I closed Jani Confidential feeling enriched, saddened and left with a profound sense of injustice. Waste creates a tension in me, good food tipped into a dustbin, a dripping tap, a light burning in an empty room. Jani Allan should not be working as a waitress in the USA, it feels just plain wrong. All is not lost, through the memoir, Jani illuminates her readers, more than providing insight about ‘that scandal’, between the pages we encounter a complex, gifted woman of immense intellect. I would love to be her blue blooded pen, I both admire and envy her gifting as a wordsmith. There is poetry on every page, strong deft metaphors, which distil oceans to crystalline droplets. For example, describing her undemonstrative adoptive mother sewing for her, she writes “I fancy love flashed like scissor blades as my mother cut the satin cloth.” At other times her words are witty, describing Eugene Terre’Blanche’s home “It is built in ‘Spanish’ style. In this instance Spanish means that the builder had a cavalier attitude to the spirit level and the plasterer was an irritable expressionist.”
My enjoyment of the book may have been enhanced by hearing Jani tell a portion of her story and meeting her briefly at the book launch held at Exclusive Books at Hyde Park corner. Her essence is bird, her physical frame delicate, her spirit designed to soar. Those wings should never have been clipped, for her to be earthbound seems an aberration.
It may only be April but I feel that this will be my ‘book of the year’. I have thought of little else for days. I already want to read it again but there are a queue of friends and family who wish to borrow it first. The story told in Jani Confidential would make a compelling movie that I would certainly watch, but so much would be lost without her exquisite writing on display.
If you read the book, I would love it if you come back here and tell me what you think under the comments below.