We spent time with the award winning, internationally recognised author, Henrietta Rose-Innes before the launch of her latest novel Green Lion at our beloved Love Books in Joburg. Constantine is a suave, handsome, yet socially stunted protagonist living in Henrietta’s imagined Cape Town, where a fence separates the city from the mountain. Even though he is surrounded by a cacophony of eccentric characters, Con seems isolated and foreign as a homeless and unemployed stranger in their lives.
While coming to terms with his position in this lonely world, Con is forced to reconnect with his childhood when he learns that his estranged friend, Mark is mauled by a black maned lion at the animal centre where he works. Con takes on Mark’s responsibilities at the sanctuary and here he is introduced to the animal cult, that takes the term animal lover to an obsessive level. Henrietta’s commentary on how society allegorises things, especially animals that are close to extinction and beyond human reach brings some very strange scenes to the page, that are almost humorous in their absurdity.
The moments between humans are fleeting in this narrative and more attention is given to the strenuous relationship between the individuals and their environment. As the reader you are never quite sure who the real victim is; the animal under threat of extinction or the human under threat of being attacked by a wild animals.
I loved that a book filled with so much violence, never explicitly described any of it. Henrietta respected her readers ability to imagine the unseen and stated that it is very difficult to write a lion mauling in an appealing or even entertaining way, without it becoming melodramatic. I had to smile at the irony of this statement. However, violence and loss is ever present and the focus was absolutely on the violence against the natural environment and not necessarily against the people.
Green Lion is a melancholy novel dealing with loss, survival, betrayal and uncertainty. Henrietta admitted that it was a deeply personal narrative with various anecdotes and themes that were relevant at a time in her life when her mother passed away. Incidentally the trigger for the novel was in fact a last visit to the zoo with her mom, where Henrietta had a close encounter with a Lion, with only a fence standing between her and it’s jaws. Even though there are some rather heavy themes running through Green Lion, it has an element of fantasy in the shadows that will spark the interests of a wider audience.
Henrietta is currently completing her PhD in Creative writing in the UK, but her heart seems to be solidly rooted in the Cape, which is a good thing for us South-African Rose-Innes’ians who are waiting with bated breath for her next novel.