Friday, January 28, 2011

Book 47, Grenada: “Pynter Bender” by Jacob Ross

I’ve just touched down in London, where I’ll be promoting my book GASPP (come to my events!) The past week’s been mad, but being compulsive about this whole project, I did manage to polish off this 452-page tome before I left.

It’s a weird book. It’s got the standard tropes of a Caribbean postcolonial novel: dialect, voodoo, politics, an intelligent young person, strong mothers and absent fathers. And yet it’s utterly unlike them in terms of style – it’s dreamlike, rather, giving you the impression that you’re observing events from a great, unfathomable distance while being quite intimately connected with everything that’s going on.

Pynter Bender’s the smart kid in question, and he excels in school and is brave in the resistance and is handsome enough to have any girl he likes of course, but his secret talent is hard to pin down – born blind but with sight restored via Santay’s healing magic, he perceives things before anyone else does, they call him Jumblie Boy, but that’s hardly all there is to it. He’s filled with an undying anger towards the world; he’s utterly unafraid; he has none of the human weaknesses that should make a character tender.

He’s intense. And yet he has no real idea where he’s going. The setting’s similarly uncertain – not sure if it’s really Grenada or some made-up isle, since I can’t find the villages of Old Hope or the town of San Andrews on Google; the argot contains words from French and Spanish as well as English; don’t know what civil war’s going on, surely the American military intervention should’ve been mentioned; I’ve read Audre Lorde describing its devastating effects in her essay Grenada Revisited: An Interim Report.

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And the family – the society, really – it’s a matriarchal dystopia. The women don’t expect their husbands to stick around for life. And sure they support and feed each other, but they also hurt one another, they make attempts on each other’s life, they go mad and have to send each other to the asylum.

And the bucolic landscape is also the oppressive canefields which the women work in, bearing heavy loads, never mind if they’re pregnant. Which is also the source of beautiful sugar water for the manufacture of rum.

Okay, enough of all that. Need a nap to get over my jetlag and sniffles.

Representative quote:
He stood on the water’s edge and shouted down the long leaf gloom, shouted Birdie’s name and then his Uncle Michael’s. He said everything he wanted to say to Deeka Bender, including what a bad-minded, wicked so-an’-so she was. He called John Seegal Bender a son-a-va-biiitch and liked the sound of it so much he said it eight more times. And still he wasn’t satisfied, so he told John Seegal what a foolish fool he was to walk, and lose ‘imself in swamp mud, and leave his wimmen with so much don’-know-what-they-want-to-do confusion. He’d cackled at the dark ahead of him and stuck his tongue out at Old Hope, danced and stomped on the riverbank and dared the soft, wet mud to suck him in. then he’d called his father’s name and felt himself go quiet.

Next book: V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr Biswas, from Trinidad and Tobago.

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