Nineveh is a window into the life of pest controller Katya Grubbs, a woman following in the footsteps of her estranged father. But unlike her father, who used rather unscrupulous means of dealing with people's unwanted problems, Katya chooses the painless approach. Yet despite her attempts to be her own woman, echoes of her father's methods sometimes creep into her own, such as the unethical practice of "insurance" which entails leaving a pest or two behind in order to ensure repeat business.
The story begins when Katya is offered the opportunity to work at Nineveh, a new housing development stuck in hiatus because of a strange beetle infestation. Katya's life is also in hiatus, and Nineveh offers a change, the temptation of the life of quiet luxury she yearns for. She can't resist. But there is a fly in the ointment. The name Grubbs is familiar to the owner, and Katya discovers that her father was initially contracted for the job, and the relationship ended badly.
When she steps through the gates of Nineveh, Katya's carefully constructed life of independence crumbles to dust, and she finds herself back under the apprenticeship of her father, helping him to hatch a plan to squeeze money out of the owner of the development.
Nineveh is a voyeuristic view into the life of an ordinary woman who could be a sister, an aunt, or a friend. It explores how our relationships with our family affect us, sometimes too deep, and how old wounds can haunt us for the rest of our lives.
The novel is beautifully written and descriptive, with moments that resonate clearly with real life. The scenes of old and modern Cape Town are as vivid as a picture.
The imagery of the Biblical city of Nineveh, an ancient Assyrian city that fell to ruins, is evident throughout the narrative. Katya's apartment is literally falling to pieces because of the construction of a new housing block across the street, while the housing development she sees as her salvation is doomed as well, and is slowly but surely being reclaimed by nature.
While everything she knows demolishes around her, Katya tries to scramble for a place in the world, like one of the unwanted vermin she's supposed to relocate. This is both tragic and also frighteningly familiar.
For all its seriousness, there are moments of lightness, such as those featuring Katya's nephew, who is in an awkward stage of adolescence. We share Katya's awe of this young creature maturing before her eyes as he discovers girls, and in turn, tries to learn the ropes of the pest control business.
Like in her delectable collection of short stories, Homing, Rose-Innes has once again delivered a fine exploration of life in modern day South Africa.
archive - issue 14