Final passage does drag the reader along rather, but at the same time, the distnace he places between the charcaters is done on purpose.As someone who originates from the West Indies, I felt the characters were true to life, in a ex colonial harsh culture, where life is diificult and the past is painful, he captures that so well. I believe European readers may find it a difficult read. The author certainly did get better as his career progressed winning prizes and residencies in the National Theatre for example. Give this book a chance for what life was like for the windrush generation. Like Alex Garland's first novel, Phillips has written a film in the novel form, a book that deals with the beautiful exterior rather than linger in the mind of charcters. Some could argue a novel shouldn't concern itself with that, it doesn't do that best. Like Garland, I suspect Phillips wnated the novel to be accesible to non fiction reader types. My Dad who rarely reads fiction, loved this book. As a historical novel of a major point in West Indian history it's value is without question. Just don't expect to live inside the heads of these characters, Phillips uses the old West Indian truism of judging someone from their actions. Martin Munroe
This novel was Caryl Phillips' first, and I haven't read any of his others. Maybe he gets better as his career progresses. Its the story of Leila and her husband Michael. Their relationship begins on the Caribbean island where they have both grown up. Leila is the daughter of a black woman and a white man - her father is no longer around. Michael's parents were both black and died in the sinking of an England-bound boat. He is brought up by his grandmother. Both Leila's mother and Michael's grandmother are tough, worn and not really interested in their charge's worries - actually they display a trait common to every character in this book, and its a major weakness. Everyone here is weirdly sullen - its as though Phillips thought that somehow this was being poetic - everyone is skeletally mapped emotionally, and monosyllabic in their interactions. That quality which an actor would call 'shading' is missing. Not to say that this couldn't have been an interesting technique - it could have revealed all sorts of atmosphere, and taken the reader to a higher level through its spareness. But Phillips doesn't achieve this at all. The writing is often dull and distant and lacks the rip that comes with reader-identification. It feels like boredom, not poetry. Michael is restless and involved with another woman while his relationship with Leila is developing. Beverley, his other partner, eventually has a child. The narrative slips back and forth in time, examining carefully each character's history and how they got to where they are. Millie and Bradeth, respectively best friends of the two main characters, form a chorus to the action on the island. (They are a couple.) Eventually Leila and Michael decide to go to England. This is the great time of Caribbean emigration that has been typified as the Windrush generation - the action takes place in the late 50s. We follow them as their already rocky relationship disintegrates under the pressure of a new environment - Leila's mother, having left for Britain earlier in the story, and having sponsored them to follow her, is in hospital when they arrive (she has not been well for a long time). One of Leila's main reasons for coming to Britain is to attempt to finally reach out to her mother and warm up an incredibly cold relationship. But Leila's mother doesn't make it. Leila and Michael quickly drift apart. Michael is at home less and less; Leila is left alone with Calvin, their small son, to gradually drift into desperation. It could have been so good. You wonder whether Phillips' realised how little this book shows its face to the reader. Instead its head is down; and all you can do is blindly grope, not being able to read its features.