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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Four Drunk Beauties

Alex Smith

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To purchase Four Drunk Beauties

Title: Four Drunk Beauties
Author: Alex Smith
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010
Length: 221 pages
Availability: Four Drunk Beauties - US
Four Drunk Beauties - UK
Four Drunk Beauties - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B : tries a bit too hard to be exotically intoxicating, but has its appeals

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Cape Times . 23/7/2010 Aly Verbaan
The Herald . 29/5/2010 Lloyd Oldham
The Witness A 7/7/2010 Qurasha Rajkumar

  From the Reviews:
  • "Smith, I believe, has outdone herself in a genre not many South Africans have tried. (...) What is fascinating is that there appears to be a rather subtle (or not so subtle, if you know your mythology) mythological and possibly even a spiritual undercurrent infusing virtually every page." - Aly Verbaan, Cape Times

  • "Four Drunk Beauties is a mature, well-written adventure that teaches a few valuable lessons along the way." - Lloyd Oldham, The Herald

  • "This is a gem of a novel, full of magical realism and breathtaking imagery. Smith’s use of language conjures up foreign sights, tastes and smells. Her novel is rich and full of colour and she is not afraid to experiment with her writing style." - Qurasha Rajkumar, The Witness

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The bulk of Four Drunk Beauties consists of chapters that alternate between the scenes where Drew and Kamal, both sentenced to die, are bound together back to back in a tiny cell in an Iranian prison and the elaborate story Kamal recounts for Drew, centered on the 'four drunk beauties' of the title. In a hopeless position, dying of hunger and thirst, Kemal tells Drew:

As the able Mr Chesterton said: 'Literature and fiction are two entirely different things. Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity.' And we, friend, are most horribly in need of fiction.
       So he invents a fiction, using bits of experience and people he has known, sending his four women across Iran on a chase that is inspired by Iranian fact (its often ugly politics) and fiction (including such classics as Farid ud-Din Attar's Conference of the Birds), in a wild and vividly imagined tale that spins in all directions. Meanwhile, in the cell, the Jewish Zionist Drew -- with both American and Israeli connections, and in Iran on a false passport -- and the Muslim Kemal also converse about their own lives and fates.
       Despite their horrifying situation, Drew and especially Kemal try to remain philosophical and even upbeat; the humor is, naturally, somewhat mordant, but Smith makes sure that even at its worst there is some sense of hope. The various tales -- and their various strands -- are hardly realistic: Four Drunk Beauties is both in the vein of classical myth (in modern setting) and language that tends towards the overelaborated, a magical realism meant to shimmer in practically every sentence -- indeed, as is also the case with the episodes themselves, one can hardly be sure where each sentence will turn and wind up as Smith offers constant unexpected twists to them.
       One of the women says:
     "I like the undisclosed; I like images that withhold, and I love it when you think you have the measure of a thing or person, and then one day you discover they hide a beautiful other truth."
       Four Drunk Beauties drips with such withholding images, and both characters and things (and even the narrative(s) themselves) repeatedly reveal hidden shapes and meanings. Lush and often overwrought, it has its appeal -- but is also wearing, a story full of sparks that flame brightly and then burn out, ultimately also distracting from what main story-line there may be.
       A vivid, fast-paced fiction, swinging back and forth between the confines of the prison cell and the women's roaming, that offers a clever literary take on contemporary Iran, Four Drunk Beauties is also dense and too intoxicated -- with its own ideas and languages. An interesting if not entirely successful work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 November 2010

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Four Drunk Beauties: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       South African author Alex Smith lives in Cape Town.

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© 2010 the complete review

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