Archipelago, By Monique Roffey

After the flood: a perilous journey for human survival

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The Independent Culture

The vulnerability of human beings subject to the vast forces of nature is a theme at the heart of this engrossing novel, which washes over the reader's imagination with the force of a tidal wave as its protagonists embark on a perilous journey along the Caribbean Sea. How do we survive when we lose our homes and families? The question ebbs and flows throughout.

The novel opens in Trinidad, the author's birthplace, and explores what happens after a flood destroys the foundations of Gavin's world, ravaging his home and family. Gavin is left alone to care for his six-year-old daughter, Océan. Through the noise of the ferocious rain, another wailing can be heard – his daughter, whose grief, like his own, is raw.

Bewildered by her nightmares, he decides that a cure for their suffering is a journey. Gavin impulsively leaves Trinidad with his daughter and dog Suzy, on a voyage to the Galápagos. They set sail on a small boat called Romany, which gives Gavin hope – "his heart thrills just gazing at her". It becomes their temporary home, the sea both feared yet desired, able to hurt yet heal.

This is a haunting portrayal of the dangers and delights, trials and tribulations, of surviving in an archipelago. Roffey evocatively conjures the life and landscape of the Caribbean islands. Yet it is a novel not only about geographical but also emotional isolation. "But islands can only exist / If we have loved in them", wrote Derek Walcott, and indeed the most poignant passages recollect moments of love, memories no flood can destroy. "Yes, as everyone knows, meditation and water are wedded forever", wrote Herman Melville in Moby-Dick, a fitting epigraph to this novel which balances the intensity of raw emotion with a cooler, more meditative reflection on the nature of trauma. The further they sail from the tragedy, the closer they come to confronting it.

The novel broadens out from a family's pain to consider the island's wider historical hurt; how native people were traumatised, how long it takes to recuperate from being tortured: "Recovery takes time; it is the story of the still emerging Caribbean". The author of novels including the Orange Prize-shortlisted The White Woman on the Green Bicycle, Roffey here creates an incrementally powerful reflection on grief, an acute study of a father-daughter relationship, with a compelling account of climate change and a transformative journey. Putting experience through a sieve, the novel shows what remains in the heart when we have lost what we love, and the inner resources needed to rebuild a life from its ruins.