Book review: Nineveh by Henrietta Rose-Innes

Nineveh was an ancient Assyrian city of Upper Mesopotamia, located in modern-day northern Iraq; it is on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, and was the capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.
In 612 BCE the city of Nineveh was sacked and burned by the allied forces of the Persians, Medes, Babylonians, and others who then divided the region between them. The area was sparsely populated thereafter and, slowly, the ancient ruins became buried in the earth.

 

I don’t really know where to start with this book. I found it incredibly bizarre and was really uncomfortable the whole time I was reading it, which perhaps was the author’s intent.

It’s the story of Katya, a second generation pest control expert working in South Africa. After the successful relocation of caterpillars from a fancy party, Katya is asked to come to the house owners new venture – Nineveh, a nearly completed but still empty luxury estate – and deal with the strange plague of insects that has stopped the construction. Katya moves to the estate, where there is no sign of the pests she has to deal with, and from then on the story dissolves into a weird set of coincidences and conspiracies that I couldn’t follow. First Katya finds that someone is sneaking building supplies out of Nineveh and selling them at a nearby market. Then she finds her estranged father and allows him to stay in the estate with her. Then there is the plague of insects, an interlude with a guard dog and an accident with the owner of the estate, who Katya may or may not be sleeping with.

Oh and you can never tell if it’s day or night, and everything happens on top of a swamp.

Katya goes through her backstory, but even that is sinister and strange and you get the feeling she either won’t divulge or doesn’t realise the full story. Every single relationship Katya has in the book, from her nephew Toby, to the wealthy landowner, to her father and to random female characters throughout the story, is dysfunctional and oddly sexualised. The whole story points at a massive storm approaching, but the break is oddly glossed over and confusing. It’s building…building… building….. then two pages and everything is back to a new kind of normal (albeit with Katya now living in her car with the dog she was terrified of throughout 90% of the story).

Maybe it’s because I can’t read between the lines, or because I imply things that aren’t there, or just because I hate gothic novels, but this book just made me confused and uncomfortable and I was super glad when it was over.

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