The Lost Child by Caryl Phillips

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Welcome to the 2015 Paper Based Advent Book Blog! Day Seven’s pick elegantly and masterfully swoops in, especially for lovers of classic literature rekindled in contemporary contexts: Caryl Phillips’ The Lost Child.

It’s an herculean task, mapping the complicated, indistinct portrait of the famous antihero Heathcliff, made broodingly remarkable in Emily Brontë‘s Victorian classic, Wuthering Heights. Where did Heathcliff come from? Of what were his dubious origins, and what matter of events shaped him into the moor-wandering man, bleak lover and passionately haunted figure who reigns powerfully in libraries everywhere? Phillips’ supple, unsentimental prose concerns itself with Heathcliff, bordering the novel with scenes from that character’s nascent journeys and imaginings.

This is no mere rewriting of Wuthering Heights, however: the author weaves Heathcliff’s narrative into the larger concerns of Monica Johnson, a twentieth century mother to two sons who finds herself, through a series of increasingly more dire events, at the ends of her endurance and capacity to thrive — both as caregiver for her children, and ultimately for herself. The Lost Child inhabits Yorkshire moors with no less grim significance than did Brontë‘s opus, and in a scene featuring a certain one-time authoress of ill health herself, that savage hinterland still beckons:

“She can see now that the morning light is already fading and the afternoon is preparing to set in misty and cold. Beyond the swaying tree, beyond the church, are the wild moors that call to her to rise from this confinement and race purposefully into the December wind and observe the landscape in its winter colours. I must go. Let me go.

Strategically juggling time periods, speakers and situations, Caryl Phillips shows how the orchestration of personal hungers leads refugees, stranded children, and starved minds to both bleak and beguiling ends. Less a morality tale and more of a musing on homelessness, exiles and the cruel poetry of the void, The Lost Child is staggeringly beautiful writing on several grief-stricken lives.

We recommend it for: lovers of Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys’ classic Caribbean response to Charlotte Brontë‘s Jane Eyre; anyone who’s been drawn to the difficult mystery of Heathcliff; readers of Hanif Kureishi and Salman Rushdie.

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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.