Prospero’s Daughter by Elizabeth Nunez (thoughts)
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.