Nope. This isn’t a review of Jani Allan’s memoir, Jani Confidential. Yes, I’ve read it. Yes, I’m reviewing it. But not today. Not right now. Instead, I’m reviewing 20 minutes with Jani — for all those, like me, who wondered what’d become of her, what she’s like now and why she’s suddenly re-appeared in the popular consciousness.
For starters, you need to know two things about Jani Allan, the person.
First, it’s pronounced “Janny” as in “fanny”, not “Janey” as in “rainy”. For another, she’s utterly beautiful at sixty-something. All eyes and hair and gamine limbs and androgynous boots. I’d expected a bit of a worn-out hag. Dotty from The Diner, so to speak.
The next noticeable thing about Jani 2.0 is her strange accent, with its Downton Abbey-ish inflections. Sort of Minnesota meets Canada meets London.
And then … oh, and then … her turn of phrase, with which I’m besotted and of which, as a writer, I’m desperately envious. Make-up is a “carapace”. There are “lacunae in the law”. “Memory is a lasso with which we capture the wild ponies of the past … “.
Even Jenny Crwys-Williams, who has — I imagine — seen and read it all, says, ”You are the most extraordinary writer”. Jani’s response? “Yes, well … I have this ability to create phrases that are memorable.”
I’ll say! Blowtorches and all.
In our brief and skinner-filled sit-down Jani was charmingly shy and palpably grateful to the waitresses, each of who was repeatedly blessed for bringing the water, the glass of Veuve Cliquot, the serviette. Between blessings, Jani was happy to chat to me about serving and neighbours and colleagues and friends and writing, flitting from topic to topic like a distracted butterfly.
She also wanted to show me pictures of her three lady Poms and, in return, to find out about me, my career, my child (“Is she free-range?”), my pets, and the state of our country’s arts and culture. I asked who would play her in a film of the memoir, for which she had an irony-drenched answer ready. Keira Knightley. Oh no, said I. Cate Blanchett, perhaps. In her Cinderella incarnation.
Unsurprisingly for someone exiled to a US dorpie for the last several years, Jani finds Johannesburg terrifying and load shedding bizarre. She asked if I were afraid to live here and where I would go if I could choose.
In retrospect, she did a fair bit of the interviewing.
And then there was the official reading, turquoise specs atop nose, peppered with throw-away comments like “At sixty-something I am still horribly insecure”; “I wish I were tiny — like you, Jenny”; “I’m going to have a Kickstarter campaign to fix my face” and “These few hours now are the happiest of my life”, to which Jenny replied, “But Jani, apart from all the bullshit … ?”
Bottom line? Jani is not what I expected. And her story’s possibly not what I (and maybe you) thought it was. Plus, everyone adores a comeback. And Jani’s back.
All I could think while I sat there was, I HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK. So I did. Review to follow.
Image – janiallan.com