Monday, May 23, 2011

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey

"That's who we were: the last colonials to arrive in Trinidad, before things changed for good" (202).

I took my time reading this book and it seems that I've taken my time writing up this review. As for the writing, I'll admit it, I've been procrastinating. Every time I sit down to write about The White Woman on the Green Bicycle, the prospect seems daunting and I'm not quite sure why.

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle isn't necessarily an enjoyable book (the opening scene: four corrupt policemen bring a teenager out to the wilderness and beat him nearly to death because he reported one of them for stealing his cellular phone), but it is compelling. Roffey's atmospheric writing evokes Trinidad in all its lush, steamy, corrupt and gritty glory.

Covering a fifty year period, The White Woman on the Green Bicycle follows the history of a marriage and growing pains of a young nation. Its story begins in January 1956 when Sabine and George Harwood arrive in Trinidad as newlyweds and Eric Williams launches his People's National Movement. The narrative, however, begins in 2006, tarrying there for 190 pages before returning to 1956. Roffey doesn't explain the frequently used word steupse1 until page 220 giving the reader a small taste of the disorientation Sabine must have felt when she arrived in Trinidad.

One of the things I liked most about the novel is that Trinidad herself is a character. She is as real to Sabine as Eric Williams is (e.g. "every morning Sabine recognized her competition. This island flexed its charms, laughed in her face as she withered," pp.121-122).

I have to admit that I knew next to nothing about Trinidad's history before I read The White Woman on the Green Bicycle so the novel was a bit of an education to me. I particularly appreciated the fact that Roffey is able to come across as objective. She doesn't simplifying things by laying the blame for Trinidad's mismanagement or the Harwood's martial problems on any one person. And, even though both Sabine and George horribly flawed and unlikable, Roffey lets us see them at moments when one can't help by sympathize with them.

What I didn't particularly like was the novel's ending. I understand why Roffey ended The White Woman on the Green Bicycle when and how she did, but there was at least one thing left unresolved that plagues me.2 (I did quite like how the 2006 part of the novel ended, unexpected and powerful)

There is so much more that I could say about this novel, but I think I will simply share a passage that I bookmarked:
I loved to ride past the big mansions there, the former estate houses of the cocoa barons. Most stood empty, one was a school [...] The house on the corner looked like a Rhineland castle, another like an eccentric gunboat, all spires and cupolas and oval windows. One was like a wedding cake made of coral. Another looked like a French chateau. All mimicked bygone European architecture; all seemed ludicrous rather than stately. A castle on the savannah? A chateau surrounded by coconut trees? [...] These houses gave me a sense of comfort; like me, they were hopelessly at odds with their environment. (219)
The White Woman on the Green Bicycle was shortlisted for the 2010 Orange Prize (the winner was Barbara Kingsolver's sixth novel, The Lacuna).

On a side note: there is something quite compelling about the novel's cover.
  1. To suck on ones teeth in disapproval or annoyance
  2. Talbot, what happens with him?
ETA disclosure: I received a review copy of The White Woman on the Green Bicycle from Penguin via NetGalley.

1 comment:

  1. I've had this in my TBR pile for ages, I think it might have been a Richard and Judy recommended read last year. It sounds like my sort of book, I really should make more of an effort to reduce my TBR pile, instead of just buying more books!!

    Thanks for the Follow on Friday