Bookshelf (Jan/Feb 2018) | Book reviews

This month’s reading picks in our books column

  • The Light in Paint: 50 Years of Watercolours
  • Grounds for Tenure
  • The Tryst
  • Collected Poems, 1975–2015
  • The Greatest Films: A Poem

The Light in Paint: 50 Years of Watercolours, by Jackie Hinkson

(202 pp, ISBN 9789768244260)

“To get the images I wanted for this book,” writes Jackie Hinkson in his acknowledgements, “I had to borrow, photograph, and return scores of paintings.” No more immediate testament to Hinkson’s enduring reputation as a visual artist need be found. If artists truly begin to perish when their paintings fade into obsolescence, The Light in Paint proves that Hinkson is here to stay. These works adorn staterooms and living rooms, ampitheatre foyers and art galleries, kitchens and embassies: they are lived with, observed, pored over. They are, even in the generous cross-section afforded us in this book, but a sample of Hinkson’s fifty years of watercolours.

Unsentimental, devoid of florid self-praise, Hinkson is perhaps well known in T&T circles for getting on with the business of painting. It is that business on which this publication trains its eye: apart from a revelatory essay by the artist, and a sensitively wrought contribution from art historian and curator Timothy Wilcox, the book suffuses us in images.

Ordered both by a basic chronology of the artist’s life and by movements in his career, the pieces in The Light in Paint command their own subtle and magnanimous vocabulary. That is, they contain in their depictions of seascapes, Carnivals, still lifes, architecture, human subjects, and street scenes all they need to make their multiple meanings seen. No further essays, reviews, or verbal dissections are required. In washes of colour on canvas, Hinkson’s The Light in Paint speaks the Caribbean world to us all: vibrant, versatile, forever moving between darkness and its radiant opposite.

 

Grounds for Tenure, by Barbara Lalla

(University of the West Indies Press, 361 pp, ISBN 9789766406219)

When a mysterious offer of a post at an offshore Jamaican campus crops up, Candace Clarke seizes it. Clinging to part-time employment at UWI, St Augustine, has long lost even a faint shimmer of appeal. To the non-academic mind, the halls of campuses and the trimmed hedges of university quadrangles seem like paltry settings for real drama: yet Grounds for Tenure teems with intrigue, fascination, and more than a few outlandish professors. Clarke is the narrative lynchpin in this subtle, anecdotally seductive novel from Lalla. We do more than feel for Candace: we are invited to think alongside her. “What really occupied her thoughts was how it was possible to word the wind howling Heathcliff’s anguish, and whether the letters Man-man inscribed on Miguel Street were a sign of his madness or some part of the cause.” Into Candace’s mind of novels, nuisances, and novelties we go, entering a world of vast imaginations and venial sins, spun in Lalla’s gently magnetic prose.

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The Tryst, by Monique Roffey

(Dodo Ink, 198 pp, ISBN 9780993575860)

Chaste and virginal? Beware: The Tryst might send you spiralling straight out of your demure cocoon, with riveting results. In this new erotic novel from the winner of the 2013 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, the stakes for a passion-dry marriage’s survival are high. Britons Bill and Jane pick up Lilah, a woman cloaked in intrigue, whose origins are far more ancient than the couple know. Lilah, a character study nonpareil in archetypal, predatory female divinity, captivates in every scene. Roffey draws her with bold, unapologetic strokes, revelling in Lilah’s capacity to raze tepid domesticities. Ripe segments of this novel read as poetic riffs: “In the mirror I sparkled and radiated evil. I was lit up by all the loving horrors of my deeds.” The Tryst encircles you at the wrist, leading you down the garden path of darkly-tinctured pleasure: this is ferocious fiction, in any genre.

 

Collected Poems, 1975–2015, by John Robert Lee

(Peepal Tree Press, 212 pp, ISBN 9781845233518)

In “Line”, written for Derek Walcott, the St Lucian poet John Robert Lee asks, “When have I not measured this land by your lines? When have I not tracked blue-smoke pits to their river-stone roots by your metaphor?” Lee’s Collected Poems assembles forty years of his own poems that lead without calamitous disharmony, with the steadying, solid weight of attention, to the land of St Lucia. Everywhere, light pierces darkness, waters trouble ships and souls, “mythology parses into facts,” and the verses do their own careful, robustly considered mapmaking. What Lee invokes for us is both a devotion to the St Lucian landscape and an ardent contemplation of what that landscape might resemble, if we watered it with deeper, stronger loves. Of the love that exists, Lee also writes words that compel us to follow: “all that is left us now is careful patience, that stubborn heart of love, hope, faith, of the ordering line, of the turning word.”

 

The Greatest Films: A Poem, by Faizal Deen

(Mawenzi House, 80 pp, ISBN 9781927494837)

A powerful anti-hymnal to cultural assimilation, The Greatest Films explores the brown queer body’s survival in a post-9/11 world. Faizal Deen — author of the first Guyanese LGBTQI poetry collection, Land Without Chocolate — leaps and vaults in experimental flourishes while never succumbing to careless indulgence. Rather, the work in The Greatest Films ricochets to the percussive power of memory: by summoning movies and songs, Deen gifts us a personal world of rich meaning. Gliding suggestively and smoothly between real vistas and reconstituted dreamscapes, these verses are at their best when they startle, unsettle, and prompt reflection in the reader. In these worlds of motion and fusion, Edgar Mittelholzer brushes up against Christopher Isherwood; “raleigh’s guiana dabbles in alchemy”; roots of boyhood origin relocate betwixt Guyana, Canada, and India. The effects are revivifying: here is a long poem unafraid to bare its bold, revisionist face.

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