‘I’ve spent a lifetime trying to forget, yet the smallest thing takes me back to the time the Dragon Lady was shot.’ Read an excerpt from Louisa Treger’s new novel
More about the book!
Jonathan Ball Publishers has shared an excerpt from Louisa Treger’s new novel, The Dragon Lady.
Deeply evocative of time and place, The Dragon Lady subtly blends fact and fiction to paint the portrait of an extraordinary woman in an era of great social and cultural change.
The book will be launched at Love Books in Melville, Joburg, on Thursday 16 May 2019.
‘Louisa Treger’s brilliant second novel is a daring blend of romance, crime and history, and an intelligent exposé of the inherent injustice and consequences of all forms of oppression.’ – Tsitsi Dangarembga
Read an excerpt:
I’ve spent a lifetime trying to forget, yet the smallest thing takes me back to the time the Dragon Lady was shot. I was thirteen years old and living on a forest reserve near the Mozambique border. My father, a naturalist and forestry consultant, visited her regularly, but it was the first time he had taken me.
Her house was long and low and painted white, with a turret on one side. It was like a castle in a storybook, unexpected and incongruous in a remote Rhodesian valley. The interior was all hushed, cool spaces and we had to wait a long time for the Dragon Lady to see us.
At one point her husband, Stephen, came to talk to us. He had a stern face, but there was a glint in his eyes while he spoke to Dad about the new trees he had planted. I had a boys’ comic tucked under my arm and he wanted to know why.
‘Cathy doesn’t like girls’ things,’ Dad told him. ‘She plays with tin soldiers and a train set.’
My father’s words caused a pang. I’d grown out of trains and soldiers a long time ago, but he hadn’t noticed. I was about to retort that I was too big for toys, but I saw Stephen was smiling; he found it funny. He left, saying that he had a meeting in town, but that his wife wouldn’t be much longer.
We sat in silence. It was hard not to fidget, and soon Dad suggested I go outside and have a look around. I walked onto the veranda and down a flight of steps, and found myself in a never-ending garden.
It was beautiful and eerie, not like a garden at all to me. My school friends had gardens with mowed lawns and tidy hedges. This was wilderness with paths and deep shade, dense with trees, ferns and flowering creepers. Under the spreading branches of an old cypress tree, I stumbled against a protruding object and nearly fell. Righting myself, I looked down and saw a moss-encrusted grave so small it could only have belonged to a young child. There was no headstone or inscription. The only decoration was a posy of white roses made out of porcelain.
A cloud slid across the sun, shrouding everything in a gloomy light. The wind came up, making the tree branches writhe back and forth. The dry rustling of their leaves was like a whispered warning and a chill snaked up my spine. Turning away, I hurried back to the house in time to see Dad and the Dragon Lady exiting the back door.
I stopped at the edge of the lawn to watch them. Her real name was Lady Virginia Courtauld; Dad called her Ginie. She was gesturing and calling to a gardener to show him something. Tall and thin, she wore a long-sleeved blue dress; her face was in shadow under a large hat.
Beneath the swish of her dress I could make out the famous tattoo. It was this that had earned her the nickname Dragon Lady, though the creature on her ankle was in fact a snake: a savage thing, heavily inked in black, its head rearing up, jaws open, ready to strike. People whispered that it went from her ankle right the way up her thigh and no one but Stephen knew where it ended.
I had a vague impression that she was agitated or anxious, fidgeting and walking up and down; her voice was vivacious, fractured. I was used to observing my own mother’s unhappiness and I saw something there that reminded me of her.
The monkeys in the treetops started up a tremendous disturbance: shrieking and chattering; flinging down gourds from the oyster nut vines that split open as they smacked the ground, scattering seeds over the grass.
‘What’s bothering them?’ asked the Dragon Lady, shading her eyes with her hand as she looked towards the trees.
At that instant, a loud noise splintered the air. I only realised it was a gunshot when I saw the Dragon Lady’s body jolt violently and the garden boy screamed. She seemed to bow down and one hand went out as if she was reaching for something. She toppled over with a choked cry and I saw the wound in her side. Her body tensed and convulsed, her limbs sprawled gracelessly, blood spilled onto the ground.