Review by Kelvin Odoobo
David Medalie’s title story of his collection ‘The Mistress Dog: Short Stories 1996 – 2010” is a lesson in tolerance. Nola, a wife of a ‘powerful man’ is caught between the love triangle that involves herself, her husband and her mistress who is also her husbands’ secretary for all her working life.
Nola knows about her husband’s affair with her secretary who is loyal, respectful and even invites Nola and her husband to her home once in a while but she lets it be, because she has no power of decision. Nobody tells her about the relationship, but she learns of it intuitively sees it grow into excitement and after seven years into simple loyalty before age naturally kills it but not the relationship. When her husband retires, she mistress also retires because she feels she cannot work for someone else and shows utmost loyalty.
Nola and her husband retire to a home at the coast but the relationship between her husband and her former secretary continues, this time as financial assistance, of which decision, the husband constantly involves her, including what to do with his mistress’s dog when she has to go to a home for the aged where pets are not allowed.
Her husband encourages her to take the dog when she feels her decision will determine whatever happens to the dog and for the first time over her husband’s decision, she finds it’s too late because their relationship is no longer relevant. So she takes the dog in, which comes on a flight packed in a carton. Eventually, her husband and her mistress both pass on leaving Nola with her mistress’s dog.
Medalie succeeds in portraying a microcosm of life in apartheid South Africa among the white rural community without getting dragged into the usual themes of that era of white verses black South Africans. The story is very tightly woven and is enjoyable for the fact that it does not coy about a certain expectation in the plot. The manner in which Nola, his mistress and even Nola’s husband resign themselves towards their individual fates without much of the dramatic fuss that would be associated with two women tussling over a man is interesting.
The Mistress’s Dog the title story from David Medalie’s stunning collection, ‘The Mistress’s Dog: Short stories 1996-2010’ published by Picador Africa, 2010 and has won a nomination for the prestigious 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing. The winner will be announced on 11th July 2011.