Elizabeth and Carolyn live in a lush, gated community, Vintner’s Estate, in Cape Town, South Africa. Both have wealthy, connected husbands, but Elizabeth is the self-appointed gatekeeper of the community’s social status, while Carolyn is concealing a devastating secret. Sarah, Elizabeth’s sister, lives outside the estate, but as a talented artist and designer, comes to the attention of new arrivals who hire her to redecorate their mansion.
Elizabeth, upset at the attention Sarah is getting, discovers Carolyn’s secret and exposes it publicly in the most humiliating manner possible. But, she soon learns that her own status is as much a lie as Carolyn’s fabricated past, and her world comes crashing down.
Gatekeepers of the Grapevine by Jane Paterson is a compelling story of the corrosive impact an obsession with position and status can have on human relationships and personal sanity. Along with brilliantly written descriptions of the characters, the author does a superb job of describing the geography and society of South Africa. While no specific dates are given, it is clear that the setting is apartheid South Africa, as only the white and Afrikaner characters are developed to any degree, with black and colored South Africans merely dropped in as minor, and often barely-seen supporting characters. Given the state of the society during that period, and the status of the main characters in this story, that’s understandable, although it would have been nice if at least one nonwhite character had been more than a fleeting shadow.
It was still an entertaining read. As someone who has experienced South Africa (in the 1990s just as apartheid was disintegrating, and from 2009 to 2012) I was impressed with the accuracy of the author’s depictions.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. I give it four stars.