The Ventriloquist's Tale: Complete & Unabridged Audio Cassette – Audiobook, Unabridged
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
"Where I come from, disguise is the only truth and desire the only true measure of time," the riddling, feisty narrator of The Ventriloquist's Tale asserts. Pauline Melville explores the effects of both of these in her dark--and often deeply funny--narrative of forbidden love and the clash of cultures. Set in the Guyanese capital of Georgetown and on its distant savannahs, Melville's first novel turns on the tragic absurdities of colonialism, capitalism, and fanaticism, not to mention a pair of very illicit relationships. In the 1920s, two mixed-race siblings find it surprisingly easy to be together and unsuspected:
"Just like the brown and black patterns in the artwork on the woven baskets and sifters and matapees, where it is not always possible to tell foreground from background and the animal symbols are disguised by being embedded in a geometrical whole, Beatrice and Danny were miraculously concealed by their home setting."In the present-day strand, Chofy McKinnon, Danny's nephew, has an intense and tragic affair with Rosa Mendelson, an English academic looking into Evelyn Waugh's journey to Guyana in the 1930s. Waugh, possessed of "a pushed-up face and little pebble eyes," had stayed with the McKinnons, and forced Danny in particular to listen to hour after hour of Dombey and Son--a brilliant spin on Waugh's reportage from the Amazonias, not to mention his novel A Handful of Dust. Melville offers up an acute vision on Guyana's colonial past and present, and on the pull between nature and culture, superstition versus rationalism, blindness and sight. She knows that there is no easy middle ground, perhaps no middle ground at all. "You say we have to mix," Chofy's cousin cries. "What to do? We're destroyed if we mix. And we're destroyed if we don't." Readers will be hard-pressed to descry any moral in the astonishing Ventriloquist's Tale (though order and institutions aren't held in high esteem). As for forbidden love--it definitely doesn't conquer all, but its memory is bliss in Beatrice's later, respectable years: "She barely had time to remember that other love which had flowed always under the grind of daily life; a sweet underground river that sometimes broke through to the surface and made its own music, but mainly stayed hidden, so that she only carried the echoes of its song." --Kerry Fried
About the Author
Pauline Melville's first book, Shape-shifter, a collection of short stories, won the Guardian Fiction Prize, the Macmillan Silver Pen Award and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for best first book. The Ventriloquist's Tale is her first novel.
Top customer reviews
As the narrator unfolds the stories of the McKinnon family, half Scottish and half Wapisiana, we see illustrated in their lives the conflicts (and occasional melding) of their ancient ways with western science, religion, and exploitation. The narrator and, one understands, the author come down strongly on the side of the ancients, as the Amerindian characters enchant, amuse, and play with us while they show us their struggle with European intruders, including, at one point, Evelyn Waugh in search of inspiration. We laugh with them, even as they face privation and hardship, and see with their eyes how ridiculously arrogant and ignorant the intruders are because the intruders do not see that "everyday life...[is] an illusion behind which [lies] the unchanging reality of dream and myth."
Melville, is, thankfully, not one of the Magic Realists, nor is she a satirist. By presenting the taboo subject of incest realistically as a primary plot line, she emotionally involves the reader--after all, who, among us westerners, is not instinctively repelled by the idea--yet we like the characters involved, we are intrigued by the old beliefs that the eclipse of the sun by the moon is itself an incestuous act, and we understand how limiting it is to reduce eclipses and relationships solely to equations and to write research papers on the structural elements of myth. We see that Father Napier is driven mad because he believes "these [Indians] think entirely in the concrete....[They] have no word for sin, virtue, mercy, kindness, truth..." And we appreciate and rejoice in the brilliance of the Indians in "divining what you would like to hear and saying it, so you can never be really sure what we think....Ventriloquism at its zenith." A fascinating and unusual novel!
This story engages the reader on so many different levels: inter-racial differences, dislocations of individuals living in culturally-diverse places and situations, Christian faith and cultural belief systems, encyclopaedic information about everyday life in rural and urban Guyana, the strains between educated/advanced societies and indigenous/native communities, historical awareness of Evelyn Waugh's visit to, and feelings about, British Guyana and the people he met (no surprises there!), the ethnic and cultural differences between indigenous populations, the relevance of western science to an understanding cultural myths, the diversity and colour of Guyanese flora and fauna, local foods, traditional healing contrasted with Western medicine, gender differences and societal expectations, US attitudes to Latin America, inter-generational differences, ethnological /anthropological issues and critiques, a love story and, of course, "incest shocker".
To be honest, the latter is so well signposted that anyone likely to be shocked and/or disgusted could have stopped reading well before their sensibilities became damaged. Having completed the book I feel sorry that the readers who were not able to read it all or who read it and only saw the issue of incest from a Western, Judo-Christian perspective had missed such a lot. I only hope that they will seek out some of Melville's other work.
Melville fleetingly introduces a Czech anthropologist, Wormoald - a very non-Czech sounding name, who specialises in comparative mythology and, in particular, researches into incest motifs in Amerindian cultures. John Thieme has taken this to be based upon Claude Levi-Strauss (how did we manage without Google?). Wormoal admits that his knowledge about Amerindian culture is a means of colonial power and that "information is the new gold".
Half way through the book I had to stop myself from reading too quickly, to go back over paragraphs to savour their layered descriptions. Melville handles the many strands of her story expertly and it is difficult to believe that this is only her second book after a collection of short stories, Shape-Shifter (1990), winner of the Whitbread First Novel Award in 1997. The author is also very good at integrating the details about Amerindian life, customs and beliefs into her text without impressing us, at that time, with her vast knowledge. Only later, looking back, does one realise the breadth of her canvass, her attention to detail and unfailing ability to move back and forth in time.
My one negative comment is that I felt that the incidents in Canada were a diversion from her otherwise well-focussed story which did not really add anything to the narrative. Other than that the characters, of all ethnicities and backgrounds, were beautifully realised and the combination of humour and tragedy was deftly balanced.
On the second page of the novel the narrator's grandmother gives her opinion that all writing is fiction "Even writing that purports to be factual, that puts down the dates of a man's birth and the date of his death, is some sort of fabrication. Do you think that a man's life is slung between two dates like a hammock? Slung in the middle of history with no visible means of support?" This is a view of life that, now that I am nearer the latter date than the former, will remain with me.
The author has, excuse the Amerindian analogy, many strings top her bow - film and TV actor, stand-up comedian, rock cabaret artist, political activist and lexicographer, recently compiling a Wapichan dictionary with a cousin - which explains the gaps between her books; as well as Shape-Shifter and The Ventriloquist's Tale she has written The Migration of Gods (1998) and Eating Air (2009) and has received a number of Awards and Prizes for her work.
The book, published in 1997, also has one of the most arresting jacket covers that I have seen. Congratulations to William Webb, the designer, and Luiz Gonzalez Palma, the photographer.
Would you like to see more reviews about this item?
Most recent customer reviews