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Hedley Twidle Chats to Henrietta Rose-Innes at the Launch of Green Lion at The Book Lounge

Henrietta Rose-Innes

On an early winter night late in May, a remarkable lion gazed from the window of independent Cape Town book shop, The Book Lounge, up towards Table Mountain. Crafted by book sellers Stuart Cairns, Verushka Louw and colleagues, it was based on the cover design of Green Lion by award-winning author Henrietta Rose-Innes.

Constructed from brightly coloured pieces of paper, this exquisite creature added a layer of meaning to the launch. The ghostly lion made its presence felt undeniably as a kind of visual Sekhmet, a manifestation of the last remaining mountain lion featured in the novel.

Book Lounge's Green LionGreen LionAs the conversation unfolded over the course of the evening, talk flowed and time flew through Rose-Innes’ recollections of writing the book, places she had visited along the way, and her associations with this vision of a futuristic Cape Town. Her concept, recorded now as a remarkable narrative, has thrilled those who have already had the joy of encountering it.

One such person is Hedley Twidle, whose glowing review of Green Lion appeared in The Sunday Times recently. He commenced the discussion by referring to acclaimed novelist Ivan Vladislavić’s cover shout, which describes Green Lion as an “extraordinary novel, lyrical, deftly plotted, and as full of life as the Ark”.

The book explores an attempt to breed back a species of extinct mountain lion in a fenced off Table Mountain that keeps animals and humans apart in a wild life preserve, thus becoming a kind of Ark. Rose-Innes reflected on the loss of wilderness areas and the threat to various species which are themes at the centre of the narrative. The mountain becomes a sterile zone because the act of cutting it off renders it so. Rose-Innes based her idea of the attempt to breed back the lions on the somewhat dubious Quagga Project, which she described as a “successful-ish attempt to breed the half-stripey zebras which once were seen on the slopes of Table Mountain.”

The way people interact with creatures is at the centre of this novel, and Rose-Innes spoke about the “crazy animal impulse” that makes human beings want to connect with animals. The discussion was deeply personal and harrowing.

“If you have any grain of crazy animal person in you, you know what it’s like to feel in awe and wonder of wild creatures,” Rose-Innes said. “It’s not something I’ve resolved in myself at all. I don’t think we as people have resolved it. At the moment we are resolving it by killing them all and remembering them only as beautiful icons.”

The evening left The Book Lounge regulars with an odd sense of simultaneous discomfort and relief. The all too painful reality of the rapid disappearance of species, as articulated in John Hanks’ recent launch of Operation Lock, was somewhat tempered by the relief that an author of the calibre of Rose-Innes is giving the topic the literary treatment it merits. It offers one, somehow, a sense of hope and a moment of redemption.

Liesl Jobson tweeted live from the event using the hashtag #livebooks:


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by Henrietta Rose-Innes

Posted by Books LIVE on Monday, 8 June 2015


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