Each year I have the pleasure of working with a group of readers to collectively select the books that will feature in a reading programme, Summer Reads. Between August 2013 and January 2014, the Readers' Circle will work through a longlist of more than 150 books to find the 6 titles that we fall in love with and want to recommend to other readers. And throughout that period I'll be posting some of the reviews here on Books, Time and Silence.
*Thanks to the publisher for providing review copies of this book.
Guest review by Judith Lal
At first, I was unsure about Archipelago. A few pages in there is a mundane description of a father preparing some instant macaroni cheese for his young daughter and I thought it was all a bit tedious. But then suddenly it picks up and takes you on an amazing sea-faring adventure. In the process, it explores modern day piracy, politics and race, sex and grief, climate change and environmental degradation, and our complex currant relationship with nature. We also see a wonderfully moving portrait of father daughter relationships, often lacking in literature lately. I loved the girl child Océan who has all the resilience, vulnerability and charm of a six-year-old, and the nice descriptions of her various facial expressions and moods really animated her character. The rhythm of the prose seems influenced by Trinidad and is like the sea itself. The repetitions and easy rhythm seem deceptively simple and quick to read. The only thing that did stand out was the rather over used cliché of the sea as metaphor for woman with malevolent siren powers, but this small thing I could overlook.
The novel reminds me of Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver which I also loved, both coming in the new genre of clim-fiction. But reading this may encourage readers to try Moby Dick which is referred to a lot and also Old man and the Sea. Lots to talk about with this book, there is one erotically charged scene that could make uncomfortable literal reading as a post-colonial metaphor, the subject being large white man visits beautiful and available black sex workers on the island, but the scene has more to do with human emotions of joy and grief than with commercial exchange. Having read Roffey's other work, With the Kisses of his Mouth, I feel comfortable that the scene that is not out of place in the narrative and the portrayal of hollowing grief afterwards puts it into context. I'm interested in the way the author researched the material by sailing herself around the islands, there seems to be a real sense of environmental concern for this fragile network of islands. Nature is wondrous and scary, appropriate that the story of evolution is connected to the Galapagos. Just as we are connected to paradise so we have a responsibility towards it. Paradise is not isolated, nor unaffected by us. A prefect and appropriate summer read that is not afraid to deal with big contemporary issues. Archipelago is a book I shall definitely remember reading in a couple of years time.
Archipelago was published in the UK by Simon and Schuster in 2012. Edition shown is the paperback edition, ISBN: 9780857203113, 358pp
Judith Lal works in the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium library. Her pamphlet Flageolets at the Bazaar was chosen as a poetry book society recommendation. Her poems have been published in various magazines including Poetry London, Poetry News, The Rialto, Ambit, Magma, Mslexia, The North, and Aesthetica. They have also been published in the Indian anthology The Harpercollins book of English poetry.