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Nineveh by Henrietta Rose-Innes (Book Review)

The rich pungency of the mud alone is evidence of the life force out there. The wetlands must be the hangout of ten million species . . . .

Katya Grubbs doesn't quite follow in the tradition of her father, for he was in the business of pest extermination, while she prefers the more humane and friendly approach of pest relocation. She deals with anything from “frogs, slugs, baboons, rats, mice, snails, pigeons, ticks, geckos.” Set in Cape Town, Rose-Innes' Nineveh is a mixed bag of sorts, on one hand, an interesting look into the life of a pest controller, on the other, a journey of one girl's quest to figure out the world in which she lives, and the space she occupies within it.

The story lends itself well to allegorical extension, but the waters become muddy, literally, as to when the allegory is intentional, and when it merely serves the story. Her father Len is a rather brutish, lonely figure who appears to have no moral convictions, yet Katya, perhaps in revolt of her father's past betrayals, seems to be the opposite of this. However there are moments in the story when she realises that she's no so different from him. She is also at odds with her sister Alma, even though her son, Toby works for her.

But no one in the Grubbs family appears to have dealt with the past very well, and that is perhaps where the allegory is strongest, that is to say, if a swarm is not dealt with properly the first time, then it will come back and bite you the next. Katya even sometimes leaves a caterpillar here and there after finishing a job for insurance, showing that like her father, she'd rather leave some things unfinished and deal with them in the future.

There is one big job that turns up for her about third of the way through the story at a place called Nineveh, which is an estate that should have been occupied by now, but because of an infestation it has been closed. Mr Brand is the owner, and he employs her to sort out the problem, but the job is much bigger than she had ever imagined, even though the bugs seem to hide themselves well. She likes it there and stays onsite, but soon finds wherever she goes her father is never far behind.

Nineveh is a beautifully written novel that refuses to tie up loose ends. Katya is a messy person who moves swarms around from one place to another, whereas her father exterminates them onsite, but what is wonderful come the end, is that Katya realises that there will always be another swarm somewhere, that it is nature's will to bend matter into submission, and come the end her character finds the strength to just let it be.

Book Details

Henrietta Rose-Innes


238pp. Aardvark Bureau. Paperback, £8.99.

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