Henrietta Rose-Innes’s novels often centre on the irruption into sanitary, constructed, (sub)urban human space of chaotic, untamed, unsanitary nature. ‘The Boulder’ operates in the same territory. The protagonist is a young man in the tentative openings of a relationship that seems doomed by gulfs of class and privilege. Sleeping in his new girlfriend’s family home, a luxurious but soulless beach house, he awakes one morning to discover a gigantic boulder has crashed into the garden. It appears as if plucked out of a dream. It could be seen to represent his hopes and his fears, both made manifest at once; but more than anything, it simply represents itself: colossal, indifferent, enduring nature.
Collected in Animalia Paradoxa, Boiler House Press, 2019
This really is the most exquisitely crafted story, which captures the wordless intimacies we exchange with the strangers we fall into step with. The language has an intense, compacted elegance, each phrase unfolding into the next with a knowing sure-footedness. After all, the story is not ignorant of what will happen when an ageing copywriter, out for his evening constitutionals, begins to encounter a vigorous young boxer out on his training runs. Indeed, it teases us with the imagery of blood and bone, of the shattering force of impact. Even so, it does not prepare us for the groundswell of loss that accompanies the ending. When it’s over, I can’t help thinking of those lines by Thornton Wilder: ‘And I, who claim to know so much more, isn’t it possible that even I have missed the very spring within the spring? Some say that we shall never know and that to the gods we are like the flies that the boys kill on a summer day, and some say, on the contrary, that the very sparrows do not lose a feather that has not been brushed away by the finger of God’.
In Homing (Umuzi, 2010)