There’s the not-quite twenty-year old journalist, with the world open to her but not knowing what to do with it, who finds herself at the Baviaan’s Drift Bugle under the watchful eye of an old acquaintance of her father’s; an older woman with her young lover, caught in Johannesburg traffic during ‘load shedding’, the new leveller; and a young boy who finds a painful intimacy with his mother’s boyfriend through the beatings he receives from him. And then there are the four friends sharing a house in London, where the only thing they have in common is that they have all left home. But do they really know anything about each other?
The short story – the perfect fit for modern attention spans – is finally receiving the attention it deserves. It started in 2013, when Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and Lydia Davis the Man Booker International Prize. In 2014, both the Mail & Guardian Literary Festival in Johannesburg and the Open Book Festival in Cape Town featured panel discussions on short stories. The literary establishment, it seems, has finally caught up with readers’ hunger for these contained, miniature worlds.
Into this mix comes the fresh, new voice of South African writer Melissa de Villiers, with her debut collection, The Chameleon House. In her powerfully condensed, poetic style, De Villiers manages to say a lot with few words. Often it’s what remains unsaid that tells us the real story. The Chameleon House is a remarkable debut by a voice to keep both ears open for. The collection demonstrates that no matter where in the world we find ourselves, our hearts are never far from home.