So, I bought this book because of the cover. Because how could you not? I’ve said before how much I love illustrated covers, and I immediately noticed this one on display in Waterstones a few months ago. The Blessed Girl, released in the UK last year, chronicles the dramatic life and times of Bontle, a young South African woman who lives in a fancy Johannesburg apartment, and spends her days juggling her three ‘blessers’ (sugar daddies) who fund her glamorous lifestyle.
A Woman at Work
Bontle Tau is on a mission. To get her hands on as much wealth as she possibly can. She’s on the run from her old life in Mamelodi and has decided to chase the good life – German cars, expensive hair, designer clothes, luxury holidays, a gorgeous apartment – you get the picture.
On the surface, Bontle seems…well, blessed. But that’s the problem – everything in her life is skin-deep, which rarely holds up under pressure.
“People don’t understand that when you’re beautiful, the sun orbits around your world, instead of the other way round.”
We are clearly not supposed to like Bontle. Makholwa does the opposite of virtue signalling, in painting her to be narcissistic and superficial.
As a character, her entire worldview is built on transaction. She has no deep sense of loyalty to others – except, importantly, to her Mum and younger brother, who she fusses over and buys expensive gifts. She’s willing to sell anyone out for money, and she actively represses more genuine emotions.
But, in spite of all this, I… still kind of did like her? Or maybe, was entertained by her. She’s brazen and unapologetic, glamorous and upbeat. And though she admits herself she has no interest in pursuing knowledge or any material skills, she’s intelligent (it takes a smart person to finesse three men at once, after all). The reader also gets several looks into her turbulent past, which do a lot to explain her present-day antics.
Men, Mistresses and Morality
“Oh yes, I have a PhD in MENcology, baby!”
The male characters hovering around Bontle leave a lot to be desired. All three of her blessers – Papa Jeff, Teddy and Mr Emmanuel – are middle-aged and married, with their own lives and families. They are typically successful in typical fields like construction, investment and oil. They’re not particularly engaging or attractive, for the most part – their appeal starts and ends with their deep pockets. There’s plenty of performed affection on both sides, but love? Forget it. Bontle sees love as a weakness and inconvenience, and has no time for it.
Makholwa doesn’t do a lot of critical talking about the cultureof wealthy, married men that take younger mistresses, because this isn’t that kind of book – but the commentary is there in the subtext. She takes the reader on a lot of different plot turns that left me thinking about the power dynamics in these kinds of relationships. Bontle is by no means innocent; she’s manipulative and single-minded in the pursuit of her blessers. But technically, she has no sustainable source of income to fund her lifestyle, therefore is entirely dependent on her youth and beauty, and on the temperaments of men who are habitual cheaters. No amount of self-assurance could block the glare of those vulnerabilities.
The Bottom Line
Angela Makholwa is an accomplished author, and was actually the first black woman in South Africa to pen a crime fiction novel. She was recently shortlisted for a Comedy Women In Print (CWIP) award for this book, and I can so clearly see why. At times, the story verged on melodrama to points where it almost lost me. In fact, I’ll say that I couldn’t stand certain plot choices, particularly towards the end. But it was Makholwa’s writing that kept me engaged. She’s witty, playful and her comedic timing is excellent.
Was this the book for me, plot-wise? No. But Makholwa’s comedic voice and vibrancy won me over, and it might win you over too. So, strap yourself in, and take a wild ride.