The Chameleon House

The Chameleon House

Mellisa de Villiers

In her finely woven collection of stories – spanning South Africa, London and Singapore – De Villiers deftly probes the ambiguities of different kinds of love and empathy as she brings a variety of people closer together in unexpected ways.

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Fiction, Short Stories





The Chameleon House

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.

Melissa de Villiers

Melissa de Villiers was born in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. She is a graduate of Rhodes University and received her Master of Arts Degree from Birkbeck, University of London. She divides her time between South Africa and Singapore and is at work on her first novel.

Melissa de Villiers's author page
Awards and Nominations
Longlisted: Frank O' Connor Award 2015

“Melissa de Villiers has a way with endings. Her stories, as is the case with Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff, are bigger on the inside.”
James Whyle, author of The Book of War

“The nine stories in this collection read like a sweet dream – they creep into your consciousness with their kaleidoscope of lives lived passionately and sometimes dangerously, of places and spaces dotted across the South African landscape…”
Makhosazana Xaba, author of Running and Other Stories

“A tough, sharp collection of stories offering unexpected glimpses of a changing country.”
Romesh Gunesekera

“De Villiers’ stories vividly capture this strangely fluid and dysfunctional time in South Africa.”
Anu Kumar, Africa In Words

“A finely crafted collection… a gem of a book, like a small gold ring inset with the deep greens of Africa and South East Asia.”
Anonymous Amazon reviewer

“Powerful storytelling from a writer to watch.”
Karina Magdalena

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