Jeanne Goosen, Author of We’re Not All Like That

Jeanne Goosen, 1968

Jeanne Goosen (July 13, 1938 – June 3, 2020) was a South African author, poet, and journalist. Her novel We’re Not All Like That (1990) explored the average Afrikaner household, pushing the boundaries of what could be said in fiction through the lead character of Doris van Greunen.

At the age of twelve, Goosen published her first short fiction in the Afrikaans lifestyle magazine Rooi Rose (Red Roses).

Goosen cited Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky as her first writing inspiration; she said that this book shook her deeply.


Jeanne Goosen’s first publications

In 1971, Goosen published her debut poetry collection An Owl Flies Away (`n Uil vlieg weg), followed by Organ Pipes (Orrelpunte) in 1974. At the same time, she worked as a journalist for the Paarl Post, Tempo, and other local newspapers.

Goosen also worked in fishing and on a citrus farm to supplement her writing income. In the 1980s, she moved to the coastal Kwazulu-Natal province. She was also a frequent traveler and spent a substantial amount of time in Gauteng and the Cape.

A Cat in the Bag (`n Kat in die sak) collected approximately a decade’s worth of stories in 1986, including the eponymous story of a stray cat foundling in a tied up bag.

Many of her stories explored human life from an animal perspective, or from people living around animals. Animals were integral to her life, and she was almost always surrounded by her pets. Goosen would say that dogs are kind enough to “trade their souls for a piece of dried sausage.”

We’re Not All Like That (1990) is her only fully translated work. The novel “tells the story of how Doris van Greunen tries to break free of her world: with her job as an usherette at the bioscope, with her Cavallas, with friends like Aunt Mavis and Uncle Tank – and with Barnie, the swank.”

The book describes life in a small, average Afrikaner family, a topic seldom touched upon even for Afrikaans authors of the time. About the novel, she said:

“I almost laughed myself to death over the manuscript, because I thought that it was funny. Because I thought how people are going to react to it, with this that it thundered against everything written in Afrikaans literature at the time.”

Goosen loved pushing boundaries with her work, developing a love for surreal situations intermingled with relationships between friends, families, and their pets.


Goosen’s publications in the 1990s

Goosen was an award-winning author throughout her career but found herself conflicted about literary prizes. In 1991, she won R50,000 (approximately 2,700 USD) for the M-Net Prize, calling it “horribly wonderful.”

She also admitted that literary prizes came with an edge, and gave “others an excuse to shit on your head.

In 1992, she received the Helen Martins Prize, using the money to live in playwright Athol Fugard‘s home in Nieu-Bethesda for thirty days. (Sarie, 2021)  Next, Goosen wrote the one-act play Kitchen Blues (Kombuisblues), which was performed internationally in London, Brussels, and other locations.

Goosen was known for eccentricities and quirks by friends and literary acquaintances. In an interview for Vrye Weeksblad, she was greeted by the interviewing journalist – and a six-pack of Amstel Lager beers.

Daantjie Dreamer (1993) was her next work of longer fiction, academically praised for its focus on liminality (or transitional stories, like coming-of-age tales). Again, Goosen returned to the setting of an average Afrikaner family, this time in the 1950s, through the perspective of Bubbles, who questions the values and traditions of her household.

She continued writing poetry and essays in her lined notebooks, including the translated “Hoedlied” (“Hat Song”).

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We're not all like that by Jeanne Goosen

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Goosen’s publications in the 2000s

In 2001, Goosen moved “between Brits and Pretoria North,” seeking a pet-friendly home to accommodate her beloved dogs.

Goosen had learned the piano at eight years old, and later the clarinet, though would only continue playing for her own entertainment (and once or twice for a friend’s book release as a rare appearance). Music remained an important part of authorship. She co-wrote a cabaret titled Thief of Hearts (Hartedief) with Deborah Steinmair, performed  in 2004. Thief of Hearts explored the story of conjoined twins who could both carry a tune.

A Pawpaw for My Darling (`n Pawpaw vir my darling), published in 2006, explored the suburb of “Damnville.” It was based on the real-life area of Danville in Pretoria. Bits of the story are told through the perspective of the family dog, who gives its thoughts as an external observer.

In a 2007 interview, Goosen noted, “Humor is part of a person’s survival kit. It makes everything more tolerable.” In the same interview, she quipped that she “liked animals more than people” because they cheered her up.

More poetry appeared in 2007, called on duty elsewhere (elders aan diens). On rare occasions, the poem My Mum’s Bonkers (My ma is bossies) has been translated and adapted.

A Pawpaw for My Darling was adapted to film in 2015. The film is in Afrikaans, but subtitled for English-speaking viewership (Review, News24).

Plants Can Talk (Plante kan praat, 2010) continued her exploration of surrealist themes blended with everyday situations. She joked that some critics had been gossiping about her mental state after its publication: “First, Jeanne’s animals started talking, and now her plants!”

Loose Thoughts (Los Gedagtes) was compiled by Petrovna Metelerkamp in 2019 from some of her most personal writing notebooks.

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Pawpaw my darling by Jeanne Goosen

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The legacy of Jeanne Goosen

Jeanne Goosen died in 2020 at age 81, in Melkbosstrand, Cape Town. After her death, some of her notebooks were discovered and published as Snow in the Karoo. The volume also contains writings by her aid Agnes Morao, published alongside the novel as Agnes’ Book. Research on publication showed that Agnes died in 2003.

Goosen was also a prolific letter writer; some of her correspondence and photographs were compiled by Petrovna Metelerkamp for A Life Full of Sentences (`n Lewe vol sinne).

Today, Jeanne Goosen remains one of the most prominent surrealist authors and poets in South African literature.

Contributed by Alex Coyne, a journalist, author, and proofreader. He has written for a variety of publications and websites, with a radar calibrated for gothic, gonzo and the weird. His features, posts, articles and interviews have been published in People MagazineATKV Taalgenoot, LitNet, The Citizen, Funds for Writers, and The South African, among other publications.

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