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Prospero’s Daughter by Elizabeth Nunez (thoughts)

February 23, 2012

When I shared my library books last week, Prospero’s Daughter by Elizabeth Nunez seemed to get the most attention in the comments. It caught my eye too, so I began it as soon as I had an opening. Now, I’ve read quite a few Caribbean authors and they’ve all been incredible, so I had quite high expectations. And Nunez blew them all away: the richness of the prose, the page-turning story, the perfect use of different narrators, and of course the strong sense of place all created a book far better than I had even imagined.

As you might have guessed from the title, Prospero’s Daughter is inspired by The Tempest. It’s set in Trinidad during the post-WWII calls for independence, and it begins with an accusation. A white, English man living on Chacachacare ,a remote island and former leper colony, has contacted the Trinidadian police to report that his black, Trinidadian servant has tried to rape his white, English fifteen-year-old daughter. Trinidad is a bit of a melting pot of cultures, but the head of the police wants to keep the story quiet, so he assigns a white, English police officer to investigate. For the first part of the novel, we see everything from his point of view; Nunez is wonderful at capturing the colonial mindset and the way that honour and racism can exist side by side. Later, the point of view shifts to each of the three main people involved (Carlos, the ‘servant,’ Peter Gardner, the Englishman, and Virginia, his daughter), as more of the back story is revealed.

I cannot emphasise enough how wonderful this novel was. As a postcolonial story, it’s masterfully layered and lends itself to multiple, close readings. As a piece of literature, Nunez’s play with The Tempest is smart and fun and powerful. And as a story, it’s impossible to not want to know how it ends or care for the characters involved. Essentially, while Prospero’s Daughter includes many sophisticated themes, they are all integrated into the characters; it’d be impossible to separate the more philosophical aspects of the book from the narrative ones. And I think that’s what gives it such power; after all, in life the mindsets we encounter and even ‘themes’ we experience are all through people. Nunez’s writing defies straightforward deconstruction or easy analysis, but it spoke to something deep within me, and I suspect it will speak to other readers as well. In case you haven’t guessed, I highly, highly recommend this to everyone.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. February 23, 2012 12:11 pm

    That sounds wonderful! Post-colonial lit + intertextuality sounds like something I will certainly love. I took a note of this title when reading your Library Loot post and after this review I will be definitely looking for this novel.

  2. February 23, 2012 2:09 pm

    This sounds very interesting. I’ve never read anything about the Anglophone Caribbean, so maybe it’s time to branch out! Since you said you’ve read quite a few Caribbean authors, what else can you recommend? I’ve read some Cuban and Dominican (or novels based there), but as I said my Anglophone side is quite underdeveloped, so I appreciate any advice. Thanks!

  3. February 23, 2012 3:00 pm

    This sounds just wonderful! Great review Eva, you’ve really inspired me to read it.

  4. February 23, 2012 3:51 pm

    This sounds really interesting, especially as I have a good familiarity with The Tempest. I’ll have to keep it in mind for when I’m ready to read some Caribbean and/or post-colonial lit.

  5. February 23, 2012 4:23 pm

    I’ve added this to my list: thanks, Eva! I’ve always had a thing for re-tellings, but, lately, it’s a little more than just a ‘thing’. It’s getting to that stage which requires some binge-reading. ;)

  6. Rayna (Libereading) permalink
    February 23, 2012 7:50 pm

    After reading your review, I’ve just put in a request for this book from my library system! The Tempest is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, so I’m really looking forward to this.

    Thank you for the recommendation, and for writing such a wonderful, well-articulated review! (Although, really, all of yours are.)

  7. February 24, 2012 10:28 am

    I’m so glad Nunez was able to write a story that matched the amazing premise! My mom is originally from Trinidad, so I’m a bit ashamed to say I’ve never read any books set there or anything by Trinidadian authors, but this definitely appeals to me. I’m definitely going to make it a priority to try this one out!

  8. February 24, 2012 7:05 pm

    Oh Eva. It sounds like exactly what I want. I shall get it at the library this weekend, and it will be amazing. I love multiple viewpoints! I love sexual mores! I love postcolonialism!

  9. February 26, 2012 2:32 pm

    A few things that you mentioned enjoying in your review–the sense of place, the complexity of the postcolonial setting, sexual politics–reminded me very much of The Grass is Singing, by Doris Lessing. Though Lessing is coming from the subject from a different sociopolitical status (being of British descent living in Zimbabwe) she is an excellent writer and has a wonderful social justice background. Anyway, if you haven’t read it yet, I think you might like it! (I feel a little silly giving book recommendations to someone as well-read as you, but oh well!)

  10. Wolfy permalink
    February 26, 2012 9:49 pm

    Excellent blog.

  11. March 3, 2012 8:58 am

    This sounds wonderful! Definitely going on the wishlist.


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