GUEST REVIEWER: Jennifer Reviews The White Woman on the Green Bicycle | Monique Roffey | Simon & Schuster
Title: The White Woman on the Green Bicycle
Author: Monique Roffey
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Released: April 2010
Reviewer: Guest Reviewer Jennifer
Sabine Harwood is caught up in a love triangle. Her husband George has fallen passionately for another – and Sabine is trying desperately to salvage the relationship. It is 1956; she and her husband George arrive in Trinidad on a three-year contract. From the moment they step off the ship, their relationship is doomed: for George, it is love at first sight. To see, live and breathe Trinidad is what he will devote the rest of his life to; for Sabine, the next 50 years will be a constant struggle: trying to keep her sanity, trying to keep her family together, trying to find a way back to England.
At the heart of The White Woman on the Green Bicycle is a tragic love story. The love of an unfaithful husband for his wife, realized much too late in life, and the love of a devoted wife, at times misguided, for her husband and for her family. And, ultimately, it is a story about a fervent, at times irrational, love for an island.
But Monique Roffey’s novel is not just a story about the Harwoods. The couple arrive in Trinidad in the midst of the de-colonization movement. Eric Williams, soon to be first prime minister, is on the rise. The working class look to him as their saviour. He will, at last, provide them with what the white man did not: running water, electricity, dignity. But just as the Harwood’s life does not turn out as planned, neither does Williams live up to expectations.
In 1956, Blacks do not speak to whites, the local Creoles, whites and mixed-race alike, show disdain to the Europeans who’ve come to the island for the easy money – and because they can only be someone far away from England. Women, regardless of class, colour or education can’t find work – after all, it is still a man’s world. In the middle of all this, Sabine is writing desperate letters to Williams, trying to understand her husband, trying to understand the country and trying to understand herself.
Reading this novel, it is inevitable to fall in love with Trinidad. Its beauty, conveyed in Roffey’s prose, appeals to every sense, yet its ambiguous nature, violently beautiful yet peacefully suffocating, creates a sense of confusion akin to Sabine’s. Ambiguity marks the book. You can’t help sympathizing with Sabine, feeling with her when she realizes that she is stuck, that she is entirely dependent on her husband, unable to leave the island on her own and make a living for herself and her two children. Yet her inability, or, rather, her unwillingness to sit back, enjoy and let the sumptuous land take her in, is agonizing and enraging to follow. You root for Granny Seraphine, an old black lady who is given hope by Williams and his cohorts, and who deserves her running water and electricity. Yet you shake your head in wonder when her proselytism blinds her even against her closest allies because of the colour of their skin.
This book will leave you confused, angry, impressed, and utterly enamoured with Trinidad, its people, its tragic history and its colourful, endearing and unforgettable protagonists.
About our guest today:
Jennifer is a passionate lover of books in general and Caribbean literature in particular. After having spent three years researching and writing about French Caribbean women’s novels for her PhD at Cambridge University, she moved on to work as an editor for a publishing company. Today, she gets to read Caribbean lit (and anything else she can get her hands on) strictly for fun again – although she can now call herself a doctor.
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GUEST REVIEWER: Jennifer Reviews The White Woman on the Green Bicycle | Monique Roffey | Simon & Schuster Reviewed by Sassy Brit on 12:03 pm Rating: