Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE


@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Read an excerpt from Tammy Baikie’s Dinaane Debut Fiction Award-winning novel, Selling LipService

Selling LipService, Tammy Baikie’s remarkable debut novel, was the winner of the Dinaane Debut Fiction Award in 2016.

Formerly known as the European Union Literary Award, the Dinaane Debut Fiction Award was established in 2004 with the intention of sustaining locally written fiction. The award is open to unpublished English-language fiction manuscripts by debut writers

Daring in scope and exhibiting exhilarating virtuosity, Selling LipService takes South African fiction into a space last seen with Lauren Beukes’s Zoo City.

Dr Pamela Nichols, a lecturer at the Wits writing centre, commented on behalf of the judging panel: ‘This is firstly technically very clever in its articulation and development of languages, which are already familiar and nearly formed in our daily lives.

The invention and play with ways of talking and thinking reminded me of Clockwork Orange. Secondly, it makes a convincing argument for the need to reassert the literary and the always partially unknown human, before we are swallowed up by ad men.

It presents a Huxley-like future conveyed with a Burgess-like linguistic skill: brilliant, and guaranteed to appeal to anyone who loves reading.’

Read an excerpt from Chapter One here:

I have been repackaged. My cellophane surface is so slick that not even the rain clings to it. But the package contents lie. This is not what I am. The gaudy veneer of bright words that declaim and cajole are not mine – they are yours. I am the perishable rawness beneath.

You materialised with my first LipService patch. Clammy gel sucked at the skin of my upper arm, and I had to swallow hard against the rancid oil in my throat. The neurologist overseeing the hospital ward of eighteen-year-olds newly come of haemorrhage was watching me with the squinting intensity of an eye to a keyhole. He had personally applied the transdermal patch to my upper arm, while nurses went around to the other patients. Had my revulsion betrayed me? Tinnitus echoed like a siren through the empty halls of my mind. Did he know?

I remembered him as being among the group of doctors that a week or two earlier had huddled around the glow of the light boxes near the door. As they pointed and gesticulated at the brain scans, a grotesque shadow pantomime unfolded on the adjoining wall. I lay with my eyes half-closed, blinkering my mind to all but the progress of an ant across my arm and the parallel passage of bergamot that it induced across my palate. But my skin was crawling with more than six tarsal claws. I opened my eyes to see the medicine men staring at me. They had been looking into my head and seen something. Something that merited monitoring.

Now, the doctor revealed nothing. He asked how I felt, and for the first time since waking in the hospital weeks earlier, a fully formed utterance tumbled out of my throat: ‘Bathed in Pristine radiance.’ It was my voice but I had to turn over the strange auditory artefacts in my mind several times before admitting that they really came from me. They were not the words I had strained to reach on the high shelves of my cranium. Someone had rushed in while I groped, filled my basket with items and pushed me through the linguistic turnstile. I was left staring bewildered at the shiny word packages. That person was You.

That very first LipService patch was programmed for the Pristine bodywash brand. My response to the doctor’s question was copywritten to reference the tagline: ‘Remain bathed in radiance, long after you leave the tub.’ Of course, I knew that greetings serve to identify a brand to interlocutors and provide a context for a speaker’s LipService drift. I knew that, just as girls’ bodies bleed on reaching maturity, the brain must also bleed to come of age and that after my haemorrhage I would need to consume LipService to produce language – written and spoken – like all adults. But I never really accepted that another would speak for me. Or that your tackiness would adhere to me, too.

In the months before the bloodbath in my brain, I was sure I could regain language after coming of haemorrh-age and refuse LipService as long as I retained my particular deviancy – the ability to draw up flavours through my skin. My first conscious thought on waking in a hospital bed was raw with fear that I had been flayed, in one stroke, of language and of my taste-budding skin. I roiled in the sheets, desperately trying to stir up the sediment of their aroma. At first there was nothing; my skin felt thick with tongue fur. But eventually I chilled out to the ricotta sluggishness of the bed linen. I still held the savour of myself behind pursed lips.

Was that what the doctor had been looking for, too? But instead of the perversity his eye had watered for, he had gazed on the banality of another newly bled. He had almost turned away from me when he remembered himself and said, ‘Congratulations on completing neural pruning. Welcome to LipService,’ patting me distractedly on the shoulder before moving off to check on the other patients.

When the doctor and nurses had gone, some of the girls in the beds on the opposite side of the room from me started chatting. The newly styled LipServants emerged from aphasia like women from Selling LipService beneath large bonnet hairdryers, cooing and clucking at each other in delight. Fragments of a variety of LipService brand languages floated across to me.

… wake up to the kiss of Prince coffee …
… cool mint …
… can’t wait to give her the antibacterial treatment …
… so swept up in aroma’nce …
… a string of pearly whites is the best accessory…

The shy plump one on my right looked hopefully at me and was even drawing in breath to speak, but I turned on my side with my back to her. I didn’t feel up to giddily pretending that You and I are the same. I wouldn’t just click with You like plug and socket.

I liked them less knowing I was one of them – just as strokestricken, equally lost for words. We were as kinbled as our brain MRIs suggested, pinned up on the wall of the ward. Each one with an almost identical inkblot lesion – a black mark against our names and the naming of all things. I was supposed to feel bound by blood to those who shared my coming of haemorrh-age day and ward. But they were all waterslide happy to be carried along on your slippery sales pitches. And I couldn’t be. Besides, with the variety of LipService patches tag-lining our tongues, we were differentiated into products: the Prince coffee girl, the Soundbites toothpaste girl, the HailChef home appliances girl … And crossing the aisle in our supermarket world is an act of treachery.

Book details


Please register or log in to comment