Sunday, August 21, 2011

White Woman on the Green Bicycle

White Woman on the Green Bicycle / Monique Roffey
(read on e-reader)

I'd heard a lot about this book and was looking forward to reading it, which I was able to do thanks to NetGalley. I'm beginning to really enjoy my Kobo! This book was a good read though I can't honestly say I loved it.

The basic story is this: Sabine is married to George. He gets a job in Trinidad, where they move from England during the height of colonial advantages. She doesn't like it much. But they stay on, through years of unrest and the uprising of a Trinidadian government, despite Sabine's protestations that she just wants to go home. They never return to England, in fact. Other elements: Sabine & George have a passionate though uneven marriage. They have years that they were madly in love and years when they despised each other. George has a wandering eye. Sabine develops a strange relationship with Trinidadian prime minister Eric Williams, writing him piles of unsent letters. They have a long term Trinidadian maid/nanny who is part of the family.

Out of this stew of ingredients, Roffey concocts a tasty story. A little spicy, with sex and the changing mores of England vs. Trinidad and one generation to the next compared. A little bitter, with Sabine's unhappiness flavouring the entire story. A little salty, with strong language and violence breaking through fairly often. A little fragrant, with some moments of great beauty revealed. But overall, I found it didn't fill me up.

I think part of it was that I was impatient with Sabine. She was very unhappy yet made no real effort to leave Trinidad on her own. As things got crazy, they had a chance to leave, with their two small children, but the story creakily made it so that they (literally) missed the boat. A little advance planning, people! I find this kind of plot machination takes me out of the story a bit.

The structure of the book was both well-done and a little discombobulating. It begins at the end of George and Sabine's life in Trinidad; they are old and hanging on in their long-time house. Then it flips back to the beginning of the story, and even though you already know what's going to happen, the action has you anxiously awaiting the outcome. Which was quite a feat! The story is one of Trinidad's evolution from colony to independent state, but it's also very much about the marriage of George and Sabine. Their messed-up relationship was sometimes a bit overwhelming.

One little thing that distracted me was the fact that the Trinidadian characters are referred to as "steupsing" throughout the first half of the story, and though in context you got the idea, it wasn't clear what exactly they were doing. In the first few pages of the second half, a simple sentence explains exactly what it means -- maybe it was in the editing but I think that sentence coming at the beginning of the book would have enriched my reading.

While I enjoyed the atmosphere of the book and learned a lot from it, I also wondered if I was getting a clear picture of Trinidad from a narrator who went there not by choice and repeatedly states how much she hates it. Nonetheless, it was an unusual read with an unfamiliar setting, and it was absorbing.

For some other views, see the following:

A Striped Armchair

Buried in Print

Page 247

Book Gazing

7 comments:

  1. I probably would not have known what "steupsing" was but Chookooloonks mentioned in a post earlier this summer.

    I know I've heard quite a bit about this book... I think maybe at BEA?

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  2. I have heard a lot about this book, too, but I hadn't really decided if it was my sort of read...

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  3. I felt ambivalently about this one as well. There was much to like, but overall, it didn't make me fall in love with it. I did like the structure very much; I liked knowing where they were going to end up once we moved back in time to see their early days.

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  4. I am planning on starting this one soon as well. The setting sounds good for sure.

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  5. eclecticreader - it's interesting, but not a light read, for sure

    Sassymonkey - yes, I'd heard a lot about it which made me think I'd like it. I did but couldn't love it :(

    Kailana - you might like it, or not; it's hard to tell as reactions have varied widely

    Dorothy - I think 'ambivalent' is the perfect description of my response to this one. There were certainly strong points but I didn't feel connected to the characters.

    Diane - would be interested to hear your thoughts if you do read it!

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  6. Both George and Sabine are such difficult characters: the ambiguity of the story is one of the things that I most enjoyed about this story, but I can also see why some other readers found that frustrating. Glad to hear that you found it a worthwhile read overall. (And thanks, too, for the link back.)

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