Jani Confidential by Jani Allan (first published in 2014 by Jacana Media)
The wheel of fortune. This phrase popped into my mind right through my consumption (rabid and through-the-night) of Jani Allan’s memoir, Jani Confidential.
In ancient philosophy the Rota Fortunae refers to the capricious nature of Fate, and so it is in this book: erratic ups and fitful downs, twists and turns; top of the heap one day, bottom of the pile the next, and persona non exista eventually.
But that wheel turned not for Jani alone. You’ll see, as you scour the memoir’s pages, that it turned for South Africa and its people.
For society and its obsessions. For privileged whites and Afrikaans neo-Nazis. For the media and its minions.
This book, as much as it offers insights into Jani, offers insights into our history.
Jani’s early life yields unexpected nuggets. For starters, her high-handed mother over-invested in her daughter’s talent and under-invested in her heart.
Thrice-weekly piano lessons were torturous; the unfortunate outcome of being a musical child prodigy who won every competition she entered.
'Mother still domineers me from the grave,’ admits Jani, ‘I will never be free of her.' (Mother sounds like a classy, well-bred tyrant – with a unique knack for finding husbands at funerals.)
Today, Jani has the love of three lady Pomeranians, her restaurant colleagues and friends and neighbours. (Yes, she is a waitress. That’s not just PR.)
But, as Jani takes pains to point out, ‘In waitressing I’m fired once a month too.’ In waitressing she is also called Juliett, tho’ not by the French chef ‘who’s a toad and must boil’.
Between Jani’s youth in peri-apartheid utopia and her post-excoriation exile to Lambertville, New Jersey, was the defining event of her public life: meeting ET.
When Ray Joseph, the Sunday Times newsroom head, initially suggested an interview with the AWB’s Eugene Terre’blanche, Jani wasn’t keen. ‘This isn’t my beat,’ she said, ‘I do the important stuff. Like trips to Venice and Mauritius.’
But she did it.
‘Any journo would want that story!’ she explains. It wasn’t worth it, as it happens. Because within ten days of Jani’s self-confessed impalement on the blue flame of ET’s eyes, she was a pariah. Within four, her flat and phone were bugged.
Then there were the affair allegations, the bombing of Jani’s apartment and her unsuccessful libel suit against the broadcaster Channel 4. Throughout all this, and ever since, has come the question: ‘Did you have an affair with ET?’ (As if Jani is now going to give an answer that is different to the one she’s always given…)
If you want to know whether or not she ‘did it’, read the book. It’ll convince you, as it did me, that a) she didn’t and b) it’s really none of our business anyway. Plus, Jani Allan was one of the finest writers to come out of this country, and she still is.
[Extra: If you’re as interested in Jani-the-Person as you are in Jani-the-Story, read my review of our 30 minutes together, published by Mail & Guardian Women.]
Read more of Tiffany’s reviews on her book blog.
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