I first encountered Louisa Treger’s writing in 2015 when I was asked by The Sunday Times to not only review her novel, The Lodger, but to also interview the author, who has roots in South Africa.
The Lodger was a captivating and enchanting work of historical fiction that detailed the doomed love affair between HG Wells and the lesser-known but equally brilliant writer Dorothy Richardson.
I must have talked about that book for months after, and recommended it to absolutely everyone.
I was excited to hear that Bloomsbury had picked up her second novel, The Dragon Lady, the idea for which was born during the author’s time in Franschhoek (or so I’ve heard). What I wasn’t expecting, was an advance copy of the book itself, which arrived on my desk completely by surprise last week.
Naturally, it found itself right on top of the reading pile.
The Dragon Lady follows another intriguing woman lost to the front pages of history, Lady Virginia Courtauld. Ginie, as she was known, was quite the scandalous figure in London society. She was a divorcee, didn’t really care what people thought and was rumoured to have a snake tattoo stretching all the way up her leg.
The novel follows Ginie and her husband Stephen’s time in 1950’s Rhodesia, then still under British rule, where instead of finding peace from their enemies, the couple only succeeded in making more.
Written in Treger’s signature captivating style, the book catapults the reader ever forward as Ginie struggles to win over her racist settler neighbours. Ginie and Stephen were outspoken against the wrongs they witnessed and worked tirelessly to change their new country for the better – even going as far as to have secret political meetings in their home. Needless to say, it won them few friends.
Treger has captured the last days of colonial Rhodesia perfectly. It is not just Lady Courtauld’s story, but also the people fighting for the country’s future. And while the book may only focus on a small piece of Zimbabwe’s long complicated history, it does so with emotion and fire.
I love learning about history’s forgotten heroines and The Dragon Lady succeeds in shining a light on a truly remarkable woman. Ginie was a fascinating character, never without her pet lemur Jongy (pictured above, regrettably, as a skunk, which was the closest thing I could find) Her home, La Rochelle, remains standing to this day and is maintained by the National Trust of Zimbabwe.
It’s a marvellous novel best enjoyed in a garden setting, with a large gin and tonic.
According to Amazon, The Dragon Lady will be available in June 2019.