‘Pretty, pretty, pretty… That’s been me all my life.’

On a winter’s morning in 1949, in an empty field north of the city of Johannesburg, the lifeless body of a beautiful young girl was found by a passer by. She was identified as Bubbles Schroeder, 18, and she appeared to have been strangled. This is her story.

Born in the poorer part of the small town of Lichtenburg, Bubbles grows up with a bitter mother who takes in laundry to make ends meet and a dull-witted aunt. She has never known her father. Bubbles dreams of a better life for herself and she constructs an alluring fantasy world, a world of furs, jewels and Chanel No. 5, where handsome men whirl her around a dance floor and send her roses.

At 16 she moves to Vereeniging to work in a coal agency and is befriended by the sophisticated Winifred Walker. Winnie teaches Bubbles some social graces, giving her a veneer of sophistication, and, most importantly, she introduces her to erotic love.

Bubbles soon moves on to Johannesburg where she is taken under the wing of a tawdry, middle-aged bookie, Barry, who continues her education, though not in the direction Winnie would have imagined. Barry teaches her tricks to beguile a man. He also introduces her to a social set of wealthy young men who find her captivating and introduce her to their friends. Bubbles sees her fantasy world within her reach. She is convinced that the perfect beau is about to swoop in and ‘carry her away’ to a grand home and a life of fun and luxury. ‘Don’t go thinking you’re one of them’, Barry warns her, but it is too late. Out of her depth and completely misreading how high society works, Bubbles finds herself in a situation she can’t control.

The world to which she aspires turns menacing and, ultimately, fatal.

Rahla Xenopoulos’s novel is a fictional account of what might have been the life and death of Bubbles Schroeder, whose murder has never been solved. Taking her cues from what little is known of the real Bubbles, she has imagined a charming ingénue and given her a voice that is at once delightful and tragic.

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