Unsound minds: a short novel

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Unsound Minds is a short novel about a young girl, Clara, who has suffered emotional trauma. She arrived in Hindpark Township from a place that she never discloses. She has been living in the loft of a block of flats for a while, isolated from the community, only corning out at night to scrounge for food in the rubbish bins belonging to a restaurant situated opposite the flats. The community believes her to be mentally disturbed and want nothing to do with her. One night, while looking through her window, she witnesses the murder of the restaurateur, Samson. A young police officer, Wanda, is assigned the duty of protecting her from the murderers before they find out that she is a witness. He places her under the care of Matrida, a formidable spinster, who lives a short distance away from the scene of the crime. It is, however, this precautionary act that actually exposes Clara to the killers as a witness. As part of the novel's tapestry, the story explores the workings of the township's corrupt and incompetent police force which is headed by an authoritarian bully, Inspector Bedson. Hindpark's social dynamics, beliefs and superstitions, and sense of community, despite some conflict between residents, play an integral role in creating the sort of environment that Clara finds herself in. Wanda, the only policeman with any notable integrity, starts off as her reluctant protector; Matrida assumes the role of a reluctant mother figure; Anabel is the obnoxious neighbour; and limbo is the neighbourhood's aggressive hell-raiser. Like Clara, they have each experienced some form of trauma in their lives. They become a more dependable unit of protection to Clara than the entire Hindpark police force. Without being scientific or philosophical, Unsound Minds looks at the question of sanity. It is a story about how no one human being is exempt from some form of madness and how that madness drives each individual differently. The supposedly insane Clara is placed in the care of Matrida whom the community believes is herself not completely sane. But even in her madness, she is instrumental in bringing back some stability into Clara's life. At the other extreme, Bedson's madness is destructive. Because of his inept leadership skills, he drives the entire police force into disrepute. Given this human dynamic. the story seeks to reveal how everyone uses their madness in the way that suits them best - for good or for bad. The theme of madness was not planned at the time of beginning this short novel, but developed as the narrative progressed. However, just as writing is subjective, so is reading. I expect each reader to read into Unsound Minds what s/he sees in it. The story is entirely my own, influenced partly by my perceptions of the different environments that I have lived in throughout my life, although it is purely imaginative. Pointers which I received from my supervisor, Professor Geoffrey Haresnape, helped in moulding it into a narrative that will hopefully be a worthwhile read.