The Dragon Lady

Written by Louisa Treger
Review by Ann Northfield

This novel is a blend of fact and fiction. Its central character is Lady Virginia Courtauld, called the Dragon Lady because of the exotic tattoo snaking up her leg. The story begins with Virginia (“Ginie”) being shot in her garden in Rhodesia in the 1950s, and then jumps back in time to different stages of her life: meeting Stephen Courtauld; what they did during the war; and how they became involved in the struggle for black rights. As well as moving around in time and space, the events are also viewed through the perspective of Catherine, a teenage girl who is witness to the dramatic shooting.

Ginie is a vital character, an unconventional challenger of the status quo who paradoxically still longs for acceptance. We see her mortified by her social mistakes and also unable to understand the casual acceptance all around her have of the belief that the black people were somehow inferior. Robert Mugabe appears in the novel as a part of the early movement for civil rights, and the Courtauld couple are warned, “Helping the Africans isn’t going to make you popular”. Ginie is not perfect, but a dynamic character who wants to do her bit to challenge injustice, and it made me want to explore more about the real person. The novel asks a key question, still so relevant today: ‘Why couldn’t black and white people co-exist gently, with respect for each other’s differences?” Why not indeed?