Leaving by Plane Swimming back Underwater by Lawrence Scott

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Welcome to the 2015 Paper Based Advent Book Blog! Day Eight of our handpicked selections is a gem — a compact companion of short fiction that’s immense in the crafting of its interior worlds, full of light, memory and music, orchestrated by a master hand: Lawrence Scott’s Leaving by Plane Swimming Back Underwater.

Such is Lawrence Scott’s craftsmanship in his newest collection that you might mistake it for sleight of hand – but make no mistake, the symmetry and ineffable majesty in these short stories is real, and so immediate as to be tangible. Whether tackling the shadowy past of Trinidad’s colonial spectres, or lambasting church and state alike in side-slapping picong, doused and flavoured liberally with satirical flourishes, Leaving by Plane Swimming back Underwater is a treasury of experience, musing on faith and its absence with equalizing strokes of conviction. Whether you’re agnostic or avowedly spiritual, you’ll want to hearken to the confessional and shrine of the vistas Scott so lovingly fashions.

These stories pay attention to Trinidad’s natural splendour, and to the wider beauty of the Caribbean archipelagic chain. Even when human monstrosity threatens the security of personal and national cares, nature persists. The many men, women and children in Scott’s resplendent yet rooted prose cling to nature for succour, asking of the landscape, the rolling hills and vast seas greater questions than there are ready answers. In the concluding lines of “A Dog is Buried”, the protagonist hurls a desperate plea to the ocean depths, and receives a chilling, ancient response:

” ‘What? What did she promise them?’ I shouted above the breakers on the black rocks. The answer was the repeated boom of the sea with its long memory of raping, killing and burying, the blood from the gutted fish staining the rocks.”

Penitents and preachers, lonely urchins and lost souls: all manner and make of voices converge on these pages that are a skilfully woven tapestry of past and present, guilt and comfort, desolation and divine grace.

We recommend it for: those seeking to round out their Lawrence Scott collections, eager for his latest since Light Falling on Bamboo; readers of Oonya Kempadoo, Anton Nimblett and Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw; literature lovers who appreciate elegant prose marriages of the sacred and the secular.

Light Falling on Bamboo by Lawrence Scott

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based blogger

Reading Light Falling on Bamboo has been one of 2012’s most memorable and enjoyable journeys in fiction for me, a sentiment I feel sure that other readers of the novel will echo. A historically motivated tale with great heart, it examines what the intricacies of Michel Jean Cazabon’s life might well have resembled. Little is known for certain of this eminent 19th century painter’s personal world, even though his landscape scenes are embedded into our nation’s cultural heartbeat for eternity. The novel affords us access to a Trinidad of yesteryear, immersing us in its sights and sounds as surely as the artistic creations of Cazabon himself draw us into their domain.

I said many things about the novel in its Trinidad Guardian (Sunday Arts Section) review, including the following:

“No aspect of Scott’s prose feels blinkered: in the writer’s imagined portrayal of a luminary artist, the reader is given one of the finest examples of art reflecting what is best about nature, and vice versa. This is a multi-layered, sympathetic characterisation of Cazabon as an artist, husband, son, and as a figure who fully embodies both tragedy and triumph at different phases of his life. It is impossible to term Light Falling on Bamboo a biography, but one imagines that Cazabon himself would have been pleased with the result.”

Indeed, Light Falling on Bamboo has been glowingly received, in reviews from abroad and, more recently, from home too. The way in which it is described by Earl Lovelace remains my favourite of the accolades in its favour. He says:

“In this intimate, compassionate portrait of 19th century Trinidad, Lawrence Scott presents a gripping tale of a world burdened by its secrets and exposed by its art.”

The author signs copies of his novel at the National Library book launch

Scott recently concluded an impressive local tour of Light Falling on Bamboo, beginning with an official launch at The National Library of Trinidad and Tobago, and spanning the following events:

  • a resoundingly successful reading at Paper Based, where Scott has shared excerpts from previous novels in the past;
  • a themed talk on Cazabon and South Trinidad, at Naparima College, with local historian Angelo Bissessarsingh;
  • a discussion on the novel’s historical and literary scope at UWI, with Dr. Geraldine Skeete and Professor Bridget Brereton;
  • a conversation centred on Cazabon the artist, with Cazabon expert Geoffrey MacLean, at Medulla Gallery.

Paper Based was proud to be involved so integrally in Lawrence’s reading series, and looks forward to hearing several thoughts from readers on just how the novel has impacted on the way they think of Michel Jean Cazabon and 19th century life in Trinidad. Signed copies are available at the shop, and would make splendid Christmas presents for:

  • historical enthusiasts who encourage literary flavour and perspective in the way we imagine our society’s great figures;
  • Cazabon devotees who are already fascinated with his work and wonder about the story behind this elusive genius;
  • aspiring and practicing painters seeking to envision the landscape through sensitive, grateful eyes.