See Now Then by Jamaica Kincaid

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Much has already been made of Jamaica Kincaid’s first novel in a decade, particularly as it pertains to the author’s personal domestic life: See Now Then bears the dubious mantle of “vengeful narrative”, of a bitter, caustic reflection on the ruination of a marriage, of how happiness and complicity become eroded both subtly and viciously over time by both external and internal warring forces. Kincaid herself denies that the novel is a wholly autobiographical affair, defending her right to explore the themes that matter most to her, as seen in an excerpt of an interview conducted by NPR. When quizzed on the subject of her personal life being laid bare in the new work, Kincaid responds:

“My own everyday life was not on my mind so much, but how to render something that had happened. How to make sense of it. You know, men write about their life all the time. … If I had looked different, my autobiography in the book, or any kind of autobiography in the book, would not be held against it. … (The book is) not about the black woman, or the black this, it’s about a human experience.”

Chronicling the dissolution of the bond between the ironically-named Mr. and Mrs. Sweet, Kincaid plots the unconventional narrative structure of See Now Then, with Time itself assuming the relative importance of a functional character. Perhaps one of the reasons why Kincaid’s own personal life has become so spotlighted beneath the lens of this novel is a simple one: See Now Then makes for reading as rewarding as it is difficult. It maps the story of entire lifetimes, and considers where the fine ley-lines between self-individuation and relinquishing one’s autonomy lie — and whether or not this is a balancing act we can perform, as human beings, with any major success.

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