Book Review: The Book of Gifts

Craig Higginson

Picador Africa

Review: Brian Joss

Craig Higginson has an extraordinary insight into the human condition and he demonstrates his acuity and empathy in The Book Of Gifts, about a family with many secrets to hide and who don’t really understand the gifts they have to give others. The gift could be life itself, a smartphone; a pair of swimming goggles; a camera with a zoom lens or a stolen kiss, But they all have consequences, intended and unintended.

The story focuses on two families: Emma and her son, Julian, 11, whose husband Jonathan, the boy’s father,  has left for greener pastures in Dubai; and Emma’s half-sister Jennifer and her psychologist husband Andrew. Emma is a talented and renowned sculptor; writer Jennifer is childless. She is a teacher at Julian’s school and she has “adopted” him as her own.

The Book of Gifts opens with Emma taking the family, Julian, Jennifer and Andrew to uMhlanga Rocks in KwaZulu-Natal  where the intricate and sometimes poisonous relationships begin to  play out. It’s also where the shy but a bit precious Julian meets a slightly older Clare and “falls in love” for the first time in his life. But an incident at the hotel shakes Clare’s view of life.

Andrew who is still trying to find his own north has always had his eye on Emma from when the three first met at university. Which leaves Jennifer feeling insecure and jealous of Emma who always appears to be happy in her own skin.

Julian, however, is the glue that holds the family together but when he has an accident at school and is left in a coma ,the adults have to dig deep into their souls to find the answers and realise that for now they are responsible for the boy.

The title of each chapter is a gift: A new pair of swimming goggles; A bright-red, high-heeled shoe; Julian’s favourite food, sushi, Only one oyster on her plate; and The perfect kiss, that shed light on the characters’ motives and are the engines that drive the story to its climax..

Like peeling an onion, translucent peel by translucent peel, Higginson digs deep into the psyche of a family to produce a profound and enthralling read.

Does it have a happy ending? It’s not so much the destination as the journey Higginson takes to get you there. It’s literary fiction at its best  from an internationally acclaimed playwright and author. His novels include Last Summer,  The Landscape Painter, The Dream House and The White Room. 

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