|The Virgin in the Treehouse by Willemien de Villiers|
|Wednesday, 19 March 2008 09:54|
Willemien de Villiers writes hauntingly. Long after I’d put down The Virgin in the Treehouse, images from the story kept swimming in my head. A weathered wooden treehouse next to a house with a moat. Dying flowers on a windowsill. A windswept beach. A man drowning in a sea of kelp. A row of cardboard flames leading to a bed.
It is an interesting style, not only for its vivid imagery, but for its chopped up storytelling. The reader is left hanging with one slice of the story while another is offered. Then that, too, is cut short while a separate missing chunk is slotted in. While it sounds like it should be disjointed and confusing, the result is rather like having your heartstrings pulled nearly to breaking, and then released. And then pulled again.
The Virgin in the Treehouse has a number of female protagonists, mainly Zoe, the virgin of the title, who believes she will have a child by immaculate conception; her mother Ina, who paints large soulless corporate paintings and feels trapped in her cushy upper-middle-class life, and her sister Lily, a childless art teacher and potter who is haunted by the death of her first love. There is also a mysterious woman who lives in a red car, and the men who influence the trio of protagonists’ lives, but at heart it is a story of three women across two generations, in a time of shift and crisis.
What is so beautiful about de Villiers’ writing, though, is that instead of focusing solely on the crisis at hand, she concentrates on the small details of every day, humanizing her characters and giving the reader no choice but to care for them.
The result is a finely woven tale, dark and desperate at times, light and lovely at others. Never quite sure what is dream and what is reality, the reader is led on a journey that pleases as it distorts. And with a good dose of religious imagery thrown in, it’s a book that will keep you thinking long after you’ve closed the cover.