A sign of our contemporary world is the endless need to develop and build. And as the need for housing increases it is easy to forget that sometimes nature pays a very high price for our comfort. This is particularly visible in cities, such as Cape Town, whose hunger for modernisation craves new and shiny estates, and the more, the merrier. This is precisely the setting of Nineveh, the new novel by Henrietta Rose-Innes.
We meet Katya Grubbs, proprietor of Painless Pest Relocations. Her company’s unique approach is that instead of exterminating, she removes creepy crawlers ‘bothering’ her clients and release them back into nature. Katya is then called to a luxurious development by the name of Nineveh. Her employer, Mr. Brand is desperate to get rid of a mysterious and troublesome beetle infestation that has prevented the estate from being inhabited.
It is at this point where the struggle of nature vs civilisation begins, not least because Nineveh’s problems are not restricted to beetles. As the novel progresses, it explores the relationship between nature and the urban landscape, mirroring at the same time the estranged relation between Katya Grubbs and her father.
In her blog Henrietta speaks about the ideas that inspired her to write the novel. Seeing a vast range of insects in her mother’s garden was certainly a starting point. But the book is much more than that: ‘Nineveh is not about destruction. Although it deals in part with rootlessness, fear and insecurity, it’s also the funniest and in some ways the most hopeful thing I’ve written. There’s comedy in a vision of grubs and tadpoles battling with single-malt-swilling businessmen for control of a real-estate empire.’
Nineveh is a very original book. I cannot remember many novels centred around the idea of a mysterious swarm of insects that can be read like a thriller at parts. How can a tiny little beetle create such mayhem to the point that a whole luxurious estate cannot be inhabited? Henrietta’s vision of the power of nature and the struggle to win over the concrete jungle is one to be celebrated. The novel is relevant and readers will certainly look at insects, human relations and the wilderness in a different way.