Tag Archives: Louisa Treger

Review: The Dragon Lady by Louisa Treger

The Dragon LadySouth African-born Louisa Treger used to work as a classical violinist before she turned to literature, first gaining a PhD in English at University College London and then trying her hand at creative writing. Her academic research focused on early 20th-century women writing and eventually resulted in her first novel, The Lodger, which told the story of Dorothy Richardson, a British author and journalist who was one of the earliest modernist novelists and, in her heyday, was considered among the greats of the era, but was subsequently neglected by readers and critics alike.

Remaining within the realm of the historical novel, Treger went on to write her latest offering, The Dragon Lady. Blending fact and fiction, the novel chronicles the remarkable life of Lady Virginia Courtauld, or Ginie, most famous for her – at the time considered outrageous – tattoo of a dragon on her leg.

The novel opens with the shooting of its protagonist on La Rochelle, the Courtaulds’ Rhodesian estate, in the 1950s: “At that instant, a loud noise splintered the air… Her body tensed and convulsed, her limbs sprawled gracelessly, blood spilled onto the ground. For a few moments, there was an unearthly stillness.”

Narrated from various perspectives, The Dragon Lady takes us back and forth in time and place to record the events and achievements in Ginie’s extraordinary life story. Unconventional, daring and visionary, Ginie was a woman way ahead of her time. We follow her life from Italy at the beginning of the previous century, via England and Scotland of the 20s to 40s, to Rhodesia at a time of great social and political upheavals. It might be Treger’s musical training that allows her to capture all these setting in a language that is so evocative, it enables readers to experience them as if they had been there themselves. And because some of the places the Courtaulds built or restored in their time still exist today, you might find yourself longing to visit their Eltham Palace in south-east London or La Rochelle in the Imbeza Valley in present-day Zimbabwe.

Lady Virginia Courtauld fascinates in her own right. She was a divorcée and a foreigner when she met and married Sir Stephen Lewis Courtauld, upsetting London society’s ‘delicate’ sensitivities. When they relocated to Africa, Ginie’s and her husband’s progressive views did not endear them to their white neighbours, dead-set on maintaining their privilege in a segregated society.

Treger depicts the vast socio-historical changes taking place at the centre of Ginie’s life with exceptional skill, weaving them into the intimate love story of the Courtauld couple. Throughout the narrative, she also keeps us guessing as to the origins of the mysterious dragon tattoo and the identity of the person who fired the gun at the beginning of the story. Immaculately researched and told with passion, The Dragon Lady enchants and intrigues long after the last page has been turned.

The Dragon Lady

by Louisa Treger

Bloomsbury Caravel, 2019

An edited version of this review was published in the Cape Times on 28 June 2019.

Blue light at Temenos

light

How often can you shatter and remain whole?

Death. Loss. Grief.

House break-in.

Cancer scare.

Institutions breaking you down by sheer incompetence and lack of understanding.

Death, again. And again.

Car accident.

And then…         . A void, a negation of time and space, of reality. How do you describe something or someone whom you tell, repeatedly: ‘I can’t breathe. I am in unbearable pain. I feel small. I am fragile. Vulnerable. Skinless. Please do not hurt me…’ And they violate your body and soul regardless? I do not know. Perhaps some things cannot be described. Sometimes words are too good to contain this, this…          ? blue-light-too

I care about words.

Another shattering.

Another loss.

What remains are the pieces. And a life-long illness. Deal with it, Karina.

turn-withinIn a corner, with no way out, when everything seems lost, broken, incomprehensible, a tiny light might save you. Holding on to that light is not an act of bravery. It is an act of compassion. I survive because I have kind people in my life. Perhaps recognising and reaching out for that kindness is courage? I do not know. I know that the sharing, the true care of friendship, have saved me from utter despair. The women in my life. I repeat: The women in my life. I do not know what I would have done without You. I salute and cherish you!

blue-lightThe first time I travelled to Temenos in McGregor, the retreat was recommended to me by my friend Margie. She knew what I was going through and said that the beauty and silence would be good for me. I fell in love with the place. One-and-a-half years later I went back, for the beauty and the silence. It is a silence punctuated by the outrageous screams of peacocks and the reluctant striking of the church tower clock. People smile, from the distance.

breakfast-at-temenos  sirloin  bemind

You can do things, or just be. Read. Sleep. Eat well. There is a bric-a-brac shop in the middle of McGregor which sells the best olives in the country. Tebaldi’s, the restaurant at Temenos, serves delicious meals. There are donkeys. Wine estates. Dusty heat. Tarot card readers and aroma therapists. Kindness, in the place and its people. The veld. And lazy sunsets which make you believe in tomorrow. It is all right to go to bed before 8pm. To read next to the pool for hours. To start brewing coffee at 5am and drink it on the stoep of your cottage while watching the light yawn and rise in the magical garden around you. Meditate, or just sit doing nothing at Temore, The Inner Temple of the Heart, with its soothing blue light.

reading-next-to-the-pool  falling

Wherever I go, I find coins. I call them my lucky coins. In South Africa, usually, 5c or 20c; 50c if I am really lucky. When I arrived in the gardens of Temenos, I found a R2-coin next to my car. Then, a few hours later, another R2-coin next to the pool. And the next day, while I was telling this story to my friend Helen (our stays at Temenos overlapped for one day and one night) during our sunset walk in the veld – in that very moment – I found another one next to our path. I want to believe that good things are coming. That despite the insanity of reality surrounding us in these troubled times, the kindness of people will prevail.

helen-in-the-veld-at-sunset

questions-from-the-seaDuring the last McGregor Poetry Festival a poem was inscribed on the walls of Temenos, my favourite one from Stephen Symon’s stunning debut collection Questions for the Sea. What synchronicity to find it there when I was returning home last night for the Q&A at Stephen’s reading/launch at Wordsworth Books in Gardens. On the way to the Gardens Centre, I stopped at The Book Lounge to pick up a book I’d ordered earlier, only to find out about the violence in the streets outside the bookshop just hours before. Louanne and Werner spoke about lost children and fear. They cancelled the event scheduled at the bookshop for that evening. The book I was buying was a gift for my friend Louisa who recently shared the remarkable Falling by Elizabeth Jane Howard with me. I started reading it at Temenos. Uncanny is not the word… There is a collective wisdom of women out there, to tap into it, to allow it to nourish and heal you, that is what I am reaching out to.

with-resident-catI arrived at Wordsworth Books rattled, but there were good friends, cheese and wine, and poetry – subtle, soul-restoring poetry. Beauty, like light, can save you. How precious that it can be contained in words. Thank you, Stephen and Nick, for caring about words.

My words are safe. I find strength in the beauty of peahens. I love my Friends. I can’t wait to share my McGregor olives with them.

peahens

And I am very curious what R6 of luck will gift me.

coffee-in-bed