It shouldn’t be embarrassing but it is

 

  1. Introducing someone as your husband or wife. It’s like saying, ‘Here is someone I often have sex with’. Or if not often, then at least now and then. Introducing someone as your boyfriend or girlfriend is even worse. And describing someone as your lover is the gold standard of embarrassment. Fortunately, no one says that, at least not in South Africa.

 

  1. When someone tells you they are ‘trying to have a baby’. I don’t know where to look. I have a friend who likes to reply, ‘Don’t let me get in your way’.

 

  1. Walking past a group of teenagers. Well, that’s more humiliating than embarrassing.

 

  1. People posing for photographs intended for social media, i.e. just

    about every photograph nowadays. It was one thing taking a happy snap for the family album that’s opened on rare occasions – it is quite another being a mini-broadcaster with an audience of at least 300. Viewers of pictures taken for social media know immediately how you want to be perceived: sexy, ironic with great breasts, blissfully bonded. (I’ve been watching people photograph themselves endlessly on Camp Bay beach over the past few days.)

 

  1. Buying a particularly big packet of toilet paper because it’s on special. I know, everybody goes to the bathroom. But there’s something about walking through a shopping centre with a huge and unwieldy rectangular package of Twinsavers that makes people think all you do is sit on the toilet.

 

  1. Being in a tour group. I don’t actually know whether this is embarrassing, but I have a sense it is when I see these big groups of chattering tourists with a tour leader in the front holding up a sign.
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Ten Reasons I Know I’m Getting Old

  • I’m ten times, make that a hundred times, more likely to wake up, wired, at four am than go to bed, knackered, at four am.
  • Everything that happens, not only in my personal life but also in
    old age

    Poster for Picasso exhibition, Boca Museum of Art

    international affairs, seems to have happened before, even though people run around screaming that this is totally new, whatever it is. Okay, maybe ‘casual orgasms’ (over clothes) among groups of women at a sex-positive sleepover is something of a new thing, at least to me, though for all I know it was old hat in Ancient Rome.

  • I’ve never caught an Uber. I don’t have an Uber story about an inappropriate and / or excessively dangerous Uber driver to tell at a dinner party.
  • I can’t get on board the latest hip intellectual theories. Privilege theory, or race theory, or whatever it is called is just as much of a trend as post-modernism was before it, and Marxism before that. Theories come and go. They frequently gloss over more than they explain; they disregard or flatten individual circumstances and experiences in an attempt to explain it all. Anyway, if we’re going to talk about privilege, then one obvious way to be privileged is to be a human being, because you stand very little chance of being raised in a tiny crate and enthusiastically gulped down by other creatures, unlike, say, a pig.
  • I like a good sit-down.
  • The people in my gym class are much more likely to discuss a frozen shoulder than their record-breaking half-marathon time.
  • I don’t do self-destructing social media apps – and we all know why that content self-destructs! – like Snapchat. I do Facebook, the home of brags and humble-brags, kittens and babies, and political conspiracy theories.
  • I’ve never been on a Tinder date. I have to admit that I did do some online dating on Yid (Your Ideal Date) – I think it was the only site available in Cape Town – in the late 1990s. All I remember about the one man I met was that we had long and earnest discussion about his poodle, which I never met.
  • Past boyfriends have collapsed into a kind of mulch. Who did I stand outside screaming at in the rain?  Who was it exactly that I vomited on? Why did it matter so much?
  • I fear the young.

 

 

Sweet little lies

  • One of the biggest (and most shameful) lies I ever told happened when I was six. I was in kindergarten in Georgia, USA. The teacher, who knew I was from ‘Africa’, asked me what pets I had there. I said I had a lion. She asked me its name and I stumbled at this point. It had been an off-the-cuff lie, hence hard to maintain.  I had a strong sense of both trying to please her – it’s what she thought a child from Africa should have as a pet – and pleasurable boasting when I told her about my lion.
  • I recently finished reading The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith. The main character Tom Ripley is mesmerising: sociopathic, vulnerable, needy, grandiose, and a fantastic liar, because he makes himself believe his own lies by actually doing the things he’s going to lie about, either imaginatively or in reality. People who believe their own lies are much more convincing. Self-delusion is fequently the secret of great success.
  • However, if you’re self-deluded, it’s difficult to understand other people. You often use yourself as a barometer for gauging others.
    lies
  • My children began to lie at about the age of four. I was impressed. Lying is about realising you can alter reality to get what you want from the world. It’s a giant cognitive leap. It’s now much harder for me to assess when the older one is lying: he’s become too good at it.
  • I was at a party on Saturday. We were discussing which teachers at my son’s school were easy on the eye. (Quite a few, it seems.) From there, we discussed a father who had badgered someone there about whether she’d had anal sex. ‘I didn’t mind,’ she had said. ‘He was being honest. That’s just the way he is.’
  • Adolf Hitler said that if you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed. I’ve slightly reshaped the truth here.

You want to know what it’s like to have a passionate S&M affair?*

If I were more confident and assertive, and loved public speaking, I might have made the following point at a recent Open Book panel. But I’m none of those things. The panel was on the all-too-familiar topic of how we can increase sales of SA fiction. People said we could lower book prices. We could encourage more people to read, especially children. We could sell people books on their cell phones or their tablets. Blah. Blah. Etcetera. There were lots of fine points raised.

But my point would have been that we have the opposite of a reading problem. All that people are doing these days is reading fiction. All day, every day. They’re just not doing it in book form; they’re doing it online.

The reason this is happening is that everyone these days is a fiction writer.

In the past, if you wanted to get inside the head of a terrorist or a stay-at-home mom (god knows why these two life paths are linked in my mind), you’d go and read a Hilary Mantel or an Elizabeth Jane Howard or an Updike, or whatever. People read to get inside the heads of other people. They had, still have, an insatiable desire to do that – call it escapism or people readingprurient voyeurism or just plain intellectual curiosity. But it’s still being done, just not through reading books.

One goes to Facebook or Twitter or reads a blog.  Plus, there’s the added frisson that the Facebook feeds or blogs are actually true. Naturally, and this is not an original point, they’re not. They are performance art, constructions of how people want to be seen – with a sprinkling of truth. Online, endless characters parade past you. You can get into the head of anybody!

You want to know what it’s like to have a passionate S&M affair? In the past, you had to try and search for it in a bookshop or a library. And you needed luck or some knowledge to come across something like Jenny Diski’s Nothing Natural. (Who would have thought Diski would have written a book like that?** Certainly not me.) I’m only mentioning it here because it’s the latest book I’ve read. But far easier, these day, just go and find a million blogs – perhaps I exaggerate – outlining the same material; and, fascinatingly, they profess to be true.

It’s not that nobody is reading. Everybody is reading. And, worse or better, depending on your perspective, everybody is an author. No wonder nobody is buying books.

*Clickbait title. Yeah. Yeah. That wasn’t right of me.

** Upon its release, the book received some backlash. Anthony Thwaite, a literary critic, referred to it as the “most revolting book I’ve ever read”.

Unconventional Families

Next week, excitingly, terrifyingly, I will be interviewing three fantastic authors – Karen Joy Fowler (We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves), Gareth Crocker (The Last Road Trip) and Finuala Dowling (The Fetch) for Open Book on the topic, Unconventional Families. Aren’t all families unconventional or don’t they all believe that they are? adams family

Of course, Tolstoy. I won’t get away without mentioning Tolstoy.

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.‘ –  Leo Tolstoy

Is this true? I don’t think so. I’d put it the other way around. Tolstoy and I could come to blows on this matter. Unhappy families share similarities. There is almost always a person ‘causing all the problems’. Were it not for that person everyone would be happy, or so the family members claim. Of course this is not true: the family is a system: each part a perfect response to the others. Psychological research, that oxymoron, says that there are two common ways for families to be unhappy: disengagement or enmeshment.

Then what makes a  family happy? Now that’s a question worth answering.

But I won’t be answering it. Instead, I will be questioning these authors with the understanding that there are three overlapping families in operation here: their family of origin (why else do we read, and eventually write, but to escape our family of origin?), their current family (in whatever form) and the fictional families created in their novels. The biggest perk of being a writer is that you can make up families. In what other job can you do this? Normally you’re stuck with what you’ve got but not so when you write. You can make up the best mother in the world or the most terrible child ever. Ask Lionel Shriver about Kevin.

Come along next Thursday to the Book Lounge if you want to talk about unconventional families.

Worrying about worrying

  • “Worries,” somebody explained to me at the gym recently, while I pedalled away on a stationery bike, “don’t go away when you get older. If anything, they get worse.  I used to think they would disappear when the children were older, but they didn’t.”
  • Worries have shapes. Some are circular: the strange noise of the car’s engine, will there be time to get to the garage tomorrow, who will fetch the child, eczema, no milk, the strange noise of the car. Others are straight lines: the strange noise of the car’s engine, the odd pain in your knee, bone cancer, death.
  • The professionals who make the most money from worriers are probably doctors and psychologists. Or perhaps they are insurance salespeople.
  • Cognitive Behaviour Therapy suggests various strategies for dealing with worries like thought scheduling. When you’re getting obsessive about something, you’re meant to stop the thought and schedule the worry for a specific time, for example, between five and six in the evening. How come scheduling sex supposedly makes the sex more intense (the anticipation?), whereas scheduling worries makes them less feverish?worried-canine-face-closeup-11441538
  • Another way to stop worrying is by focusing on the present, being mindful. It does sort of work. Worrying is about the future.
  • The worst worries of all are the ones that strike between two and four in the morning.
  • The designated worrier in the family is the one with the to-do lists: the family manager. It’s generally the mother.
  • It strange that the word ‘worrier’ and ‘warrior’ are homophones. Might fighting be a solution to worrying?
  • All worries have the same centre. Mary Gaitskill, in an interview in the Believer, poetically describes what I consider to be this centre: “…we’re going to fall apart, kind of dissolve back into this vast soup from whence we came, whatever that is. It’s almost like these beings pop out of this massive sludge and then they get sucked back into it, and that’s a really hard thing to comprehend.”
  • Although a survey reports that our biggest worry is actually about our stomachs – and whether we are overweight.

Six Dangerous Things

One of the best things about Tony Soprano was that you knew he was psychopathic, but you liked him anyway. Each time, you thought he’d behave better; naturally, he never did. He was consistently disappointing you, but he remained addictive. It makes me think of Facebook.

Having witnessed mob mentality on FB recently, I was struck by the following: grem

  1. There are a hang of a lot of moderate people who hold themselves back in these debates. This skews the results. People believe they have more support and / or criticism than they really have because most people just don’t want to get involved. They stand back. In some ways it resembles the famous bystander effect in psychology.
  2. I think that people tend to be less aggressive to each other face-to-face, because body language (a raised eyebrow, a slight smile) both diffuses tension and moderates what you say next in social situations, at least some of the time. In other words, it’s better to go and have a drink with people who have different views to your own than engage with them on social media.
  3. Social media makes itself feel like the whole world when actually you have just self-selected into that little piece of the world. Often an echo chamber is created, where you think certain people have a lot more power / support than they really have. They are merely surrounded by people who repeat their sentiments. If you follow different people, you create a different world. (Parts of this last thought come from my friend Ryan.) *

Seeing as though I’m discussing dangerous things, like Facebook mobs, I thought I would also try to bring the topic closer to home by thinking of dangerous things I’ve done.  (Because it’s my blog, I don’t need to worry about logical transitions).

I’ve put them in ascending order of danger:

  1. I’ve smoked a giant joint in Dahab with somebody who had supposedly descended from Egyptian aristocracy. He rolled the joint from newspaper. It gave me a terrible headache.
  2. I’ve engaged in a sexual activity under Rondebosch bridge in the middle of the night. (Not recently.)
  3. I’ve swum in a hotel swimming pool in Malaysia during a lightning storm. It was exhilarating.
  4. I’ve got engaged after seeing someone in person for five days. (We did write letters before that.)
  5. I’ve had two children. I know it doesn’t seem that having children is dangerous, but the genetic lottery means it’s entirely unpredictable. The child is not, as one would think, an equal blend of the parents. Some tartar rapist ancestor genes (always been my mother’s theory about how I got my red hair from my Russian ancestors) or a genius musical gene can get mixed into the DNA milkshake. Anything can happen.

* For further social media theories, check out the famous Lazarus Lemon Meringue Pie vs Oral Sex Facebook ‘easy like’ principle .

My Interview with Henrietta Rose-Innes about her new novel, Green Lion

This interview took place online on the Good Book Appreciation Society.

Lisa Lazarus Hello everyone. Hello, Henrietta. How are you?

Henrietta Rose-Innes Hi! I’m excellent. I am sitting in the library eating a chocolate orange.

Henrietta Rose-Innes But I have to be very quiet, so you can’t make me laugh out loud. I have already had my coffee confiscated.

Lisa Lazarus Now you tell me.

Lisa Lazarus Okay, let’s get started.

Henrietta Rose-Innes I’m psyched.

Lisa Lazarus Green Lion is Henrietta’s latest book. It’s both a simple story and a multi-layered exploration of extinction, guilt, loss, and desire. At one level, it tells the tale of the last remaining black-maned lioness in the world and her effects on the people around her. One of Henrietta’s great skills, and of course there are many, is that she is an exceptionally visual writer who captures a moment in a strikingly lyrical way. She also, by the way, takes amazing photographs on Instagram. These things seem connected. From insects to lions, that’s quite a shift. Why?

Henrietta Rose-Innes why thank you! (If anyone is interested, there is a picture of my chocolate orange on Instagram right now).

Lisa Lazarus Animals, animals: we’ll get to those. [See Henrietta’s picture above.]

Henrietta Rose-Innes Partly it is a sentimental, romantic thing. I’ve always been very attached to the figure of the Cape Lion.

Henrietta Rose-Innes When I was a child I was fascinated by a photo of a taxidermied specimen that was in the SA Museum, on of my favourite places.

Lisa Lazarus Do you happen to know if it’s still there?

Henrietta Rose-Innes Also, it is a bit of a self-indulgence to write about lions: they are such sensually and aesthetically appealing creatures.

Lisa Lazarus That’s true. The tones of Green Lion and your previous novel Nineveh are fairly different. Whereas Nineveh is, in parts, humorous, and perhaps more hopeful, Green Lion seems more pessimistic in tone. Would you agree? Has your world view become darker? How did it feel to produce these different worlds? (Answer all, none or some of these questions.)

Henrietta Rose-Innes And in this book I wanted to write about idealised, symbolically potent wildlife – unlike the mundane creepy-crawlies in Nineveh. And you don’t get much more potent a symbol than an extinct lion.

Henrietta Rose-Innes oh sorry, i was running on. I’ve just refreshed and seen your other questions.

Henrietta Rose-Innes Let me catch up …

Lisa Lazarus I think I’ve also fallen behind.

Henrietta Rose-Innes The lion photo is still in the Museum; but the specimen itself is in storage in the Natural History museum in London. I went on a little pilgrimage last year to visit him.

Lisa Lazarus (I want to ask you about research but later on.)

Henrietta Rose-Innes Nineveh did have a darkly funny tone, or at least that’s what I was going for … it was quite jocular. The point of that book was that the world turns regardless, things are built and destroyed, and the natural world lives on, often in strange, tough, not always welcome forms.

Lisa Lazarus Whereas the tone of GL felt much sadder in parts.

Henrietta Rose-Innes But in green Lion I wanted to examine the other side of our relationship with the natural world: the fact that we are also rapidly emptying it of many of our fellow creatures. I wanted to write about how, as we lose these companions, we seem to also revere them more, and give them intense, almost religious or fetishistic significance. Many humans are animal crazy in a way we never were when we actually dealt with animals in our daily lives.

Henrietta Rose-Innes And yes, that is sad to me. I’m afraid the book doesn’t offer much in the way of redemption or relief from environmental pessimism.

Lisa Lazarus Yes, animals are roaring inkblots in your book.

Lisa Lazarus For example: for the animal group, viewing animal videos is compared with people “saying grace”. It’s spiritual / religious. Of course you’re making a point here about the disparity between the inauthentic (“watching videos of animals”) and the authentic experience. But aren’t people also projecting all kinds of things – their needs, hopes, desires – onto animals?

Henrietta Rose-Innes That’s a good name for a band, the Roaring Inkblots

Lisa Lazarus Band of writers, perhaps

Henrietta Rose-Innes Yes, indeed. The main character, Con, in particular: he is a lonely figure because of various personal losses he has experienced; and he projects that loss and the desire for connection onto the lioness in his care at the zoo.

Henrietta Rose-Innes Of course this is terrible choice. You cannot fall in love with an animal that mostly wants to eat you.

Lisa Lazarus Well, reminds me of some guys I’ve known.

Lisa Lazarus Sorry

Henrietta Rose-Innes hmm

Henrietta Rose-Innes I was actually wording that quite carefully to avoid any smut

Henrietta Rose-Innes so much for that

Lisa Lazarus Yes, the relationship between Con and the lion is very erotic. I wanted to talk about that.

Lisa Lazarus The novel is largely about loss, but there is also a strong element of erotic desire that pulses through it.

Henrietta Rose-Innes It is. The book is also quite a lot about desire. And desire as an answer to the fear of death, I suppose.

Lisa Lazarus Can I quote you something from The Tale of Genji? About time we turned to eleventh century Japanese literature.

Henrietta Rose-Innes Con is very sexual. He struggles to connect emotionally, but he falls easily into sexual relationships.

Henrietta Rose-Innes oh ok

Henrietta Rose-Innes But in English please, my archaic Japanese is rusty.

Lisa Lazarus Let me just quickly translate spontaneously.

Lisa Lazarus Compare this from a recent New Yorker article on the eleventh century Japanese masterpiece, The Tale of Genji: “One reason that physical contact between men and women is hardly ever described in “Genji” is that courtly lovers almost never saw one another clearly, and certainly not naked… A male suitor could be driven wild by the sight of a woman’s sleeve spilling out from underneath a shade, or by the mere sound of silk rustling behind a lacquer screen.

Now look at your description of Con feeding Sekhmet, the lioness, her bloody meat: “His communion with the lioness was unpredictable. Sometimes, he was allowed to glimpse only significant parts: a paw, a flank, an eye…he could never see the whole. She’d wait for him to look away, then slip out and snag the meat, pulling it inside or into the shelter of a rock or bush…Sometimes she’d lift her eyes momentarily from her bloody meal to meet his gaze through the glass.”

Lisa Lazarus Can you speak about the erotic in the book and how it seems to manifest in the deeply unfamiliar, the foreign?

Henrietta Rose-Innes nice quotes!

Henrietta Rose-Innes hai

Lisa Lazarus thanks

Henrietta Rose-Innes I like the idea of powerful glimpses … the lion is particularly frightening and magnetic to Con because she is so elusive. A lion barely seen in the undergrowth is much more terrifying than one you can easily locate. And I think desire is the flipside of that: the strongest lusts are for things not completely seen or comprehended.

Lisa Lazarus True. Even I like a lady’s ankle.

Henrietta Rose-Innes The lioness Sekhmet is an illusory desire; Con can never attain her, just as he can’t bring back his mother from death or his childhood friend (who he also desired) from age and physical damage.

Lisa Lazarus But the erotic component in GL seems more than that. When Con has an encounter with Mossie outside the lion’s cage, he describes the effect of the lion – “the spike, the rush, the beating heart” – on both of them.

Henrietta Rose-Innes Sometimes I feel that that kind of rush is the only thing that keeps us going!

Lisa Lazarus The erotic pulse is often equated with a sense of being alive, high, open to the world: the opposite of death.

Henrietta Rose-Innes The rush of desire, of wanting.

Henrietta Rose-Innes Yes exactly.

Lisa Lazarus Yep.

Henrietta Rose-Innes And in this book it is also represented by the very real adrenalin rush of being in close contact with a big, beautiful, very dangerous animal.

Henrietta Rose-Innes Again, not an experience humans have very often these days; it can be addictive.

Henrietta Rose-Innes I am fascinated by people who want to put themselves in close proximity to that kind of danger.

Lisa Lazarus And particularly for Con, who is frequently described as a ghost. (I guess ghosts especially need that thrill to feel a little bit alive.)

Lisa Lazarus How was it writing about a character like Con?

Henrietta Rose-Innes In Green Lion I try to poke a little gentle fun at that desire too, with the club of nature fanciers who meet up monthly to pet an interesting animal.

Lisa Lazarus Ja, that was funny.

Henrietta Rose-Innes It was interesting. I haven’t often written from the point of view of a man before, and never in a novel.

Lisa Lazarus They did get a snake at their last meeting. That was lucky.

Lisa Lazarus Speaking of snakes then, tell us about writing from the point of view of a man.

Lisa Lazarus Did it feel different?

Henrietta Rose-Innes And he is quite a lonely and emotionally numbed character. he needed to be, in order to want to feel something so badly.

Henrietta Rose-Innes But my characters are always weirder and less likeable than I think they are. I am fond of them and find them completely understandable, but people often tell me they’re strange and unpleasant.

Henrietta Rose-Innes I don’t quite understand my own reasons for choosing a male protagonist this time.

Lisa Lazarus Haha. I don’t think Con is unpleasant, but one does want to shake him out of it. At least I felt that way, at times.

Lisa Lazarus Perhaps you can explore the issues at a somewhat removed level. I think it’s quite helpful as a writer to work via a different gender.

Henrietta Rose-Innes It’s got something to do with the fact that a central dynamic in the book is his unrequited crush on his childhood friend Mark. I wanted to write about the intensity of that kind of adolescent longing and desire; and it was easier for me to write about feeling that for a boy. But I also wanted Con and Mark to be almost doubles of each other. So they are both male.

Henrietta Rose-Innes It’s just a temperamental thing too, really. I do find repressed characters much easier to relate to.

Lisa Lazarus This could take us back to your very first novel Shark’s Egg, which included such a powerful evocation of adolescent longing. Do you find that the well of those intense childhood and adolescent teenage years is still deep for you?

Henrietta Rose-Innes sigh!

Henrietta Rose-Innes yes

Lisa Lazarus Good for you. Me too.

Henrietta Rose-Innes you can’t always choose the things that drive you. last thing in the world i ever wanted to write about was high school.

Lisa Lazarus Haha

Henrietta Rose-Innes but it sometimes feels to me that I am sequentially processing my life in my novels. It feels like each one has dealt with the preoccupations of a particular time of my life.

Henrietta Rose-Innes Maybe one day I will catch up with myself.

Lisa Lazarus I want to talk about the fence and it does kind of connect to the issue of adolescence and adulthood.

Lisa Lazarus Might you move ahead of yourself?

Lisa Lazarus And find out what you’ll be up to next?

Lisa Lazarus Martian exploration?

Henrietta Rose-Innes (I don’t really like writing about children or young people even. I would like to get away from it but somehow they keep creeping into the backstories, the little buggers)

Lisa Lazarus Now let’s a grip on ourselves. The fence.

Henrietta Rose-Innes the fence

Henrietta Rose-Innes what about it then

Henrietta Rose-Innes Context:

Lisa Lazarus Hang on. In GL, the ‘fence’ is a potent motif. It rings Table Mountain and it divides your Cape Town into permissible and prohibited areas. No South African can see such a fence without a political reminder of our fraught history. Does it have this kind of resonance for you? Or is it more psychological? One can also see the fence as the demarcating of the id: the wild, the ungovernable. It’s an exciting area. The reader is itching for Con to break through the boundary and go on through to the other side.

Henrietta Rose-Innes In the book, Table Mountain has been fenced off by the authorities to preserve the ecosystem up there. A few wealthy people can buy permits for guided tours, however.

Henrietta Rose-Innes Yes of course, it is a hugely loaded symbol. Impossible, in this city and this country, to write about fencing off land and barring people from access without referencing forced removals and apartheid demarcations. I do try to acknowledge that history in the section of the book where an informal settlement is destroyed to make way for the fence.

Lisa Lazarus I saw that, sure. But for me, the fence felt powerfully psychological.

Henrietta Rose-Innes But although the fence feels powerful, it is in fact revealed to be a bit of a farce, by the end. The mountain is not preserved; the scheme is corrupt and inefficient; it is not possible to control the human and/or the natural world in this managerial way.

Henrietta Rose-Innes Which is also a kind of critique of a kind of bureaucratic style of conservation which tries to remove people from the equation.

Lisa Lazarus Yes. But the meaning of the fence seems to alter. In adolescence, what’s behind the fence is something genuinely terrifying, and tragedy ensues. In adulthood, there is nothing much beyond the fence, and what Con hopes to find there – wildness, perhaps even a roaming lion – is not there. At some level are you making a comment about those life stages, perhaps contrasting the excitement (danger) of adolescence with the dull predictability, and inevitable loss (death), of adulthood?

Henrietta Rose-Innes Although a little girl goes missing, we don’t know why. And I don’t know if there is anything genuinely terrifying behind the fence in the childhood section. I tried to keep it quite ambiguous – we never really are sure if there is a lion on the mountain or not. The real fear is, simply, mortality; and that is what is waiting for Con behind the fence in adulthood too.

Lisa Lazarus You’re a slippery customer, Henrietta. In the best possible way.

Lisa Lazarus Lastly:

Henrietta Rose-Innes But there is a sense too – and I’m thinking this for the first time now – that the fence is a kind of barrier between childhood and adulthood.

Henrietta Rose-Innes Literally: the young, small children can slip through the gaps , and also slip more easily into a world of fantasy and make-believe; once they grow older, the barrier is not so permeable.

Lisa Lazarus That’s interesting

Lisa Lazarus Yet the hunters seems able to slip into a fantasy world, maybe?

Henrietta Rose-Innes They are trying. (There is this group of rather inept hunters who are being taken on safari on the mountain – Con runs into them)

Henrietta Rose-Innes But they are entirely unsuccessful. They are trying to enact the big-game hunting fantasy, but the quarry is just not there any more.

Lisa Lazarus Yes, thanks for the context. They are also engaged in a pretend game.

Lisa Lazarus A kind of Wishing Chair for adults

Lisa Lazarus From Enid Blyton to HRI

Lisa Lazarus Okay, lastly, because we have now run out of time

Lisa Lazarus It’s an Ali G type question

Henrietta Rose-Innes In the end of the book, all that is left is the pretend game. The zoo has abandoned its project to create actual animals, and has fallen back on theatre and art . Grim!

Lisa Lazarus If you could be an animal, what animal would you be?

Henrietta Rose-Innes hahaha

Henrietta Rose-Innes *blank*

Henrietta Rose-Innes i used to always say polar bear, but things are not looking so good for them these days.

Lisa Lazarus It’s a trick question. You already are an animal.

Henrietta Rose-Innes pigeon maybe. They do alright.

Lisa Lazarus I got that from Douglas Coupland.

Henrietta Rose-Innes yes, but not the animal I want to be

Lisa Lazarus Pigeons have a lot of fun.

Lisa Lazarus Henrietta has written a terrific book and we could talk about it endlessly. You peel away one layer, you get another. But time to open it to the floor.

Bea Reader What are you working on next HRI?

Henrietta Rose-Innes Another trick question …

Henrietta Rose-Innes I have started a new book but it’s in very early stages right now. So far the main character is … a bridge.

Henrietta Rose-Innes A concrete overpass bridge.

Bea Reader Hmmmmmm

Henrietta Rose-Innes But very passionate and emotionally engaged.

Lisa Lazarus Hahaha Somewhere exciting? Is it like the Bridges of Madison County?

Máire Fisher Ooooh – what might lurk there … besides trolls.

Henrietta Rose-Innes I am trying to stay clear of animals and children

Máire Fisher Oh, so no billy goats.

Henrietta Rose-Innes I think there are a couple of skeletons, and probably some stone tools.

Henrietta Rose-Innes It’s a kind of archaeological romance between inanimate objects.

Henrietta Rose-Innes This is sounding less and less sexy.

Lisa Lazarus  No characters at all I hope. They just get in the way of things, I find.

Henrietta Rose-Innes ja I might just tell the story entirely on instagram.

Lisa Lazarus So, you’re living in the UK at the moment. Is this influencing your writing?

Máire Fisher Great interview Henrietta and Lisa. Flipping load-shedding now – will catch up on rest later.

Lisa Lazarus Cold, damp milieus?

Henrietta Rose-Innes I wonder that myself. It is having the effect of making South Africa feel removed (obviously) and more abstract. Which is not necessarily a bad thing., but different.

Henrietta Rose-Innes I don’t know if I’m ready to write about England itself, just yet. I don’t have that confidence.

Henrietta Rose-Innes What I do have here is lots and lots of time to write, which is quite a transformative thing.

Lisa Lazarus I understand. I don’t like going beyond Newlands.

Henrietta Rose-Innes Rain is flooding down now. I find rain very good for writing.

Henrietta Rose-Innes But I am not here for long now – will be back in SA in a week’s time, for the M&G festival, and then for Open Book.

Henrietta Rose-Innes You haven’t got rid of me yet.

Lisa Lazarus And with the soundtrack of heavy rain, we now leave Henrietta Rose-Innes, one of South Africa’s most distinguished writers, as she looks pensively onto a drenched, green English landscape, and eats a chocolate orange.

Henrietta Rose-Innes oh the choc orange is LONG gone.

Henrietta Rose-Innes thanks Lisa – it was great chatting.

Bea Reader Massive lion paw-print sized thanks to you both for a fascinating hour dissecting Green Lion. An incredible, layered novel by a phenomenal author. http://www.takealot.com/green-lion/PLID38273782

Lisa Lazarus Good-bye, viewers. Good-bye. Remember, you can experience more of Henrietta by reading her remarkable books.

Bea Reader Our wonderful interviewer, Lisa Lazarus, is a psychologist and freelance writer. She has Master’s degrees in psychology and creative writing, and diplomas in higher education and in information systems. Lisa has co-written three books with philosopher Greg Fried: the novels Paradise (Kwela, 2014) and When in Broad Daylight I Open My Eyes (Kwela, 2012), and the memoir The Book of Jacob: A Journey into Parenthood (Oshun, 2009). She has written for many publications, including Men’s Health, Femina, Shape, Cosmopolitan, Cape Town’s Child, Psychologies, and Mail & Guardian. Lisa tutors Magazine Journalism, Feature Writing and Memoir Writing for SA Writers’ College.And blogs over here:https://greglazarus.wordpress.com.

Henrietta Rose-Innes Thank you, Bea Reader – it was a pleasure. x

Bea Reader And the fascinating and talented Henrietta Rose-Innes is an award-winning novelist and short story writer based in Cape Town (Currently in the UK). Before Green Lion, Henrietta wrote Nineveh (published in 2011 by Umuzi), which followed Shark’s Egg (2001) and The Rock Alphabet (2004). Her story Poison won the 2008 Caine Prize for African Writing.http://henriettarose-innes.com.

Planet of the Apes

I’ve developed a troublesome affliction. People who did Psych 1 will remember those visual perceptual experiments where the lecturer would show you a picture that could either be seen as a young or a very old woman. It all depended how you looked at the thing. And then you could start shifting the face from young to old, and back again.

Psych 1 was full of these kinds of stunts. I remember we even had a lecturer who ran down the stairs of the lecture hall, arms in the air, rock star style, to discuss masturbation. Word had got out that there were three lectures on human sexuality and people had flocked from other disciplines – philosophy, sociology, chemistry, anywhere really – to come and listen to him. This was before the internet and we were nineteen, pushing twenty. I remember nothing of content but everything of style: his floating run to the podium, the excited fullness of the lecture theatre. He could have told us any old gibberish and he probably did.

It was more exciting than Roman Law 1, which was truly incomprehensible. There was a visiting lecturer whose weird accent and ancient world subject matter shocked everyone into perplexed and anxious silence. Who knew what to write down when one heard this:

If Titius stole Aulius’ dog and then Aulius took out an actio coniunctis animalium against Titius, the loonahtik…

It took us an entire semester to work out that a loonahtik was a lunatic. But once you knew that – oddly, there were many lunatics in Roman Law – things became much better. You learnt to shift what you heard between Central European gibberish and, well, gibberish, but sort of English gibberish.  caesar_planet_of_the_apes6427

These days my perceptual problems are different. They don’t relate to Roman Law or seeing age and youth in the same person, but to perceiving people as apes. Humans look remarkably like small, medium, large and extra-large apes. It’s a terrible affliction. Once you start seeing lowered brows, angry gesturing and little kids clinging to their parents, it’s impossible to stop. And where to from there?

5 ways I am different from my 15-year-old self

  1. I no longer blame myself for my failings. Instead, I blame the world. I realise that so much is unfair and beyond my control. Also, blaming the world makes me feel better about myself.
  2. At 15, I was scared of authorities and systems. They seemed eternal. But I’ve seen the generation above us abandoning the rules they once imposed. They’ve taken new lovers, embarked on trips, changed their fundamental beliefs, given up. Authorities will crumble: my children will come to realise this, too. There is no real penalty for not doing your homework. ship of fools2
  3. I know that people are self-righteous about the issues of the day, but scornful of how things were done in the past. Future generations will feel similarly towards us. We may be obsessed with gay marriage and white privilege but those who come after us will embrace something else, perhaps animal liberation. They will look upon us as cruel, barbaric and incomprehensible. We will be vilified.
  4. I no longer need to be similar to other people. When I was 15 I did all kinds of things I hated just to be like everyone else: going to youth camps, spending the day on Clifton, wearing my socks rolled down below my ankles. I realise that people are not like one another, even if there are some feelings we all experience.
  5. I now understand that the cool boys think everything comes easy. They get fat. Nerdy boys have always got something to prove. This keeps them lean and hungry.