Books: Balmy days on an island of visions
Julie Wheelwright savours the luscious pleasures of a tempestuous family saga
Saturday 13 November 1999
Change of the Moon
by Dionne Brand
Granta, pounds 14.99, 302pp
DIONNE BRAND'S luscious new novel features an Afro-Carribean Eve whose children leave Trinidad to travel all over the world, their lives weaving around one another in brilliant strands. Marie Ursule, the book's first mother, is a slave who foments a rebellion in 1824. When it fails, she prepares a poison from a native plant for an act of collective suicide. With her dying, she sees her descendants conjured up before her like a pageant.
The only ones to escape are Marie Ursule's three-year-old daughter, Bola, and her lover, Kamena, who search out ground where the Ursuline nuns' convent once stood. Bola lives on wild plants, sucking on stones and waiting for tidbits from her father on a crab- infested island. She has children by the men who travel through her Eden, and then farms them out or keeps them. Her fostered children might lose sight of her, but their own offspring are inexorably linked.
Cordelia, respectably married, suddenly discovers lust at the age of 53 after looking carefully at her body in a tall mirror. She gazes out the window and sees first the freezer repair man walk past and, then, a seamstress. When Cordelia's seams burst with longing, she rides the repair man on the kichen floor and plies the seamstress with rum. She even seduces a young boy addressing a revivalist meeting.
The boy, nicknamed Priest, is another of Bola's descendents who, fanning out from her silence, gain education and enter the gritty realism of modern immigrant life. Bola has "spread her children around so that they would never be gathered in the same place to come to the same harm". Children descended from Sayman, the child who fearfully traced Bola's footsteps in the sand, leave for North America in the 1970s. The most vulnerable are always brought back into the fold of this hard-loving, chaotic family.
Descending through the generations, Dionne Brand returns these children to their almost mythic beginnings. She is best known in Canada as a poet, and her prose pays sharp attention to detail, with sensual, often playful, descriptions. She injects a rhythm into her language and creates characters who burst with colour. This is a delicately structured, beautifully written novel, infused with rare emotional clarity.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 I've been called an abusive and dangerous parent, when all I did was listen to my transgender child
- 2 Why this father didn’t hide his daughter’s heroin overdose in her obituary
- 3 Smartphones are making children borderline autistic, says psychiatrist
- 4 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 5 Teaching profession headed for crisis as numbers continue to drop and working lives become 'unbearable'
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins
Sherlock series 4: Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have to be 'persuaded' to return, says Steven Moffat
London Marathon: Best running songs from Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar to 'Uptown Funk'
A victory for gender equality on the high seas
Oldest footage of London landmarks released
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
Rupert Murdoch berated Sun journalists for not doing enough to attack Ed Miliband and stop him winning the general election