Buried Treasure

Shena Mackay on Brigid Brophy's 'Hackenfeller's Ape'
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The Independent Culture

The great apes on our planet are on the verge of extinction, and the Government has endorsed Cambridge University's primates laboratory where monkeys will be tortured in the name of research into human ailments. What better time to re-read Brigid Brophy's brilliant Hackenfeller's Ape (Virago)? This prophetic work was published first in 1953 and was awarded the Cheltenham Festival Prize for a first novel in 1954. It has been reissued several times.

Percy and Edwina are rare Hackenfeller's apes caged in London Zoo. Professor Darrelhyde, an eminent zoologist, longs to witness and write up scientifically their legendary mating ritual. Edwina is willing but Percy refuses to oblige. Darrelhyde, talking to Percy through the bars, singing Mozart to encourage him, forms a tender relationship with the ape. When he discovers that Percy is doomed to take part in a rocket experiment he determines to free him and with the help of Gloria, an engaging female burglar, effects a daring nocturnal rescue. The following events are farcically funny, tragic and redemptive. Hackenfeller's Ape is exciting, profound and moving, and even more remarkable because its author was only 24 when she wrote this beautiful account of Homo Sapiens and cousins.

Shena Mackay's 'Heligoland' has been shortlisted for the Whitbread novel award