A Historical Fiction Thriller With A Splash of Sci-fi: ‘The Monster’s Daughter’

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Historical evils have a way of casting their roots deep, tainting the years following any number of events with a sort of undeniable blackness.

In writer and Ohio University creative writing PhD student Michelle Pretorius’ debut novel, The Monster’s Daughter, (released on July 19 through Melville House,) such a theme is explored over a rich backdrop steeped in South African history, all whilst toying liberally with the conventions of multiple genres.

It all starts with horrifying experiments conducted on prisoners in a British concentration camp during the height of the Boer War, from which two children survive. Over a century later, a police captain reassigned to the quiet rural town of Unie unearths the terrifying remains of a woman burned beyond recognition. Investigation of the crime sends the captain spiraling through the violent history of the country, unearthing truths about her family, those children who escaped the concentration camp over 100 years ago and the politics of the apartheid regime.

“The book consists of multiple genres, so it’s a murder mystery, historical fiction, very much so political fiction – and, just for kicks, I put in some sci-fi in there, which throws everybody off, but it works, I promise!” said Pretorius in an interview several weeks after the book official release. “The murder mystery and sci-fi conventions are really a way of talking about the institutionalized racism that happened in South Africa as a part of apartheid. Apartheid came to an end when I was in high school, so I can’t really claim that I had first hand knowledge or experience with it, but I also had no idea how bad it was because of the history we were taught in school, the lines we were fed by the government.”

Pretorius said that she didn’t realize the extent of the horror caused by institutionalized racism until she was researching the book, something that involved visiting South Africa several times over the past six years that she has been working on the novel.

“It was important for me to go back home,” she said. “Often I would still find people who still believe that apartheid was good thing because ‘the economy was better,’ and my question always was ‘for whom?’ So I wanted the fiction – and it is fiction – to be kind of a spoonful of sugar to get the message across. And, in light of things that are happening in the U.S. now, it might not be totally irrelevant to the U.S., either.”

Although The Monster’s Daughter has been receiving praise from critics since (and even before) it’s release, Pretorius said that the road to publication was, as it so often is for the modern writer, a lengthy and, sometimes, rocky one.

“I was very lucky that I got an agent right away,” she said. “Because it’s not a very straightforward novel, and it doesn’t fit neatly into genre categories – we had some problems selling it. In that respect I am very grateful for having an agent because he didn’t tell me about all the rejections. Every now and then when we had a very nice rejection, he’d pass along the note, but he kept the other ones away.” Towards the end of 2015, the book was picked up by Melville House, and the rest, as some might say, is history.

Pretorius said that she is currently crafting another book with some of the same characters that readers were introduced to in The Monster’s Daughter, a novel that will sort of serve as a sequel to the book.

“The themes of this book are very important to me,” said Pretorius. “My eyes were opened and I think that we turn away from the truth all the time because it’s inconvenient so often, and a lot of bad things happen because of that.”

The Monster’s Daughter is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble Booksellers and Melville House Books.

On Oct. 1 Pretorius will have an organized reading at The West End Cider House, 234 W. Washington St., at 1:30 p.m.