Monday, 26 December 2016

Nineveh by Henrietta Rose-Innes

Nineveh by Henrietta Rose-Innes
First published by Umuzi in South Africa in 2011. Published in the UK by Aardvark Bureau in 2016.

How I got this book:
Received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Katya Grubbs, like her father before her, deals in ‘the unlovely and unloved’. Yet in contrast to her father, she is not in the business of pest extermination, but pest relocation. Katya’s unconventional approach brings her to the attention of a property developer whose luxury estate on the fringes of Cape Town, Nineveh, remains uninhabited thanks to an infestation of mysterious insects. As Katya is drawn ever deeper into the chaotic urban wilderness of Nineveh, she must confront unwelcome intrusions from her own past.

At face value Nineveh is an interesting novel about a working woman trying to overcome the demons of her childhood whilst running her own business in the unusual field (literarily anyway) of pest control. What I liked about the book though is that, as we get drawn further into Katja's Cape Town, Nineveh becomes more an exploration of 'home' - whether we identify place or people by that term and how we decide who (or what) has the right to live in any particular place. I could see this book provoking fascinating discussions in book club circles!

Having grown up with an itinerant father who was often drunk and sometimes violent, Katja has no memory of a single childhood home. In response to this, her sister, Alma, has created a perfect family environment for herself whereas Katja is proud of her own (rented) tumbledown house, but lives with it furnished exactly as it was when she moved in. It is a home, but Katja hasn't made it her home.

Outside, a group of homeless people are evicted from 'their' park and the space is demolished to build luxury apartments. Katja is called to remove caterpillars from a tree and rehomes them instead of destroying them. A huge brand-new gated community sits empty due to a beetle infestation while just beyond its walls people live in a derelict shanty town.

Katja is a great character with whom I could easily empathise and I like that Rose-Innes draws out the minutiae of her life - a long bath, the difficulty of getting her uniform to fit. I could understand her inability to resist Len although I struggled to believe the sexual encounter with Mr Brand. Cape Town itself also has a strong part to play and provides a varied backdrop to the story. I liked ideas such as nephew Toby's young mind easily finding Nineveh when Katja's older brain is too set in its ways to believe the instructions.

I think that Rose-Innes has written a strong and original tale here. Perhaps it isn't a great reading choice for anyone with insect phobias as a couple of beetle scenes do get pretty intense! However, I enjoyed the book and would happily search out more of Rose-Innes' writing.

Etsy Find!
by Illustrator Katy in
Rotherham, England

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Books by Henrietta Rose-Innes / Contemporary fiction / Books from South Africa


  1. This might be one I'll recommend to my book club. I am always curious about the notion of what and where home is, especially as I haven't really determined where my own home is.

    1. I think Nineveh would be a great book club choice that would trigger strong discussions about its themes