At my desk – Jane van der Riet on whiteness, shame and her debut novel How to Hide Inside a Three
 More about the book!

Jane van der Riet on Leigh-Anne, ‘a nice white racist’ – and the main character in How to Hide Inside a Three.

There I was: barely eighteen, barefoot, hairy-legged and wrapped in my kikoi. Protesting against apartheid. The motley crew of white student activists to which I belonged knew we were in for a protracted, bitter, violent struggle but we were comforted by the deepest conviction: we were right. In the thrill of battle, there was little chance to examine our whiteness. We were disciples of non-racialism, transcending race. Race, however, cannot be transcended.

Decades later, I set out to write a serious novel about whiteness and shame. But my white narrator, Leigh-Anne, refuses to be noble. She insists on making terrible mistakes, saying embarrassing things and thinking outrageous thoughts. Leigh-Anne is a nice white racist who grapples with apartheid training that can never be undone.

Whiteness is already so clamouringly loud. I wonder if it’s not a further act of colonisation to write about its troubles. There’s no easy answer to this question. In my novel, I try to illuminate how what we most despise in others is the shadow of our hidden shame. Leigh-Anne – with her skeleton husband, her secret crush, her bickering children, and a large and eccentric supporting cast – flounders from one domestic disaster to the next. She makes frantic lists, never quite sober, always with a morsel of something on the way to her mouth. Yet slowly and unsteadily, she uncovers the truth about her father’s sordid past. In the process, she must reckon with her own culpability.

There is no cure for shame, but it can be relieved by speaking its truth; and fiction is a delicious place for that.

My eighteen-year-old self would be shocked to see me now, with my suede boots and neatly shaved legs. I don’t know what happened to my kikoi. I miss it. Recently, a friend gave me a new one, in more muted colours, but it wraps around me just as well.

About the book

It’s 2017 in Cape Town. The dams are empty. There’s a gangster in charge of the country. Leigh-Anne may look like she’s keeping it together in her Southern suburbs world, but really she’s unravelling. How is a woman supposed to cope? With chocolate and wine, of course, and by making plenty of lists (things feel much more manageable when you write them down in threes). But all is not what it seems. Leigh-Anne has a secret of her own. In her quest for answers, she will have to betray everyone she loves; only then can she truly come out of hiding.


How to Hide Inside a Three is out now.

This article was originally published in The Penguin Post, a magazine about books for book lovers from Penguin Random House South Africa.   

Categories Fiction South Africa

Tags How to Hide Inside a Three Jane van der Riet Penguin Random House SA The Penguin Post

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