Friday, November 22, 2013

Is Just a Movie by Earl Lovelace

I knew I had to read Is Just a Movie after hearing Earl Lovelace at the Vancouver Writers Fest last month. He had the entire audience laughing. The story is narrated in the voice of a calypso singer, KingKala, and through him we get to know a wide assortment of individuals in a small town in 1970s Trinidad.

One of these is KingKala's friend Dorlene, who was pitied because her parents sent her away to get a better education in Port of Spain. KingKala's aunt is "sad for the girl who had grown up remote from our world. 'She will not know the bush teas and the songs and the dances. She will live on the edge of the world that is her world.'"

"When she left school, Dorlene would have loved to get a job in Port of Spain. Instead, the job she got was in the library in Arima seventeen miles away. The librarians there agreed that nice men did not read, and, in order to expose themselves to a wider pool of a suitable set of men, had organised a programme to invite poets to read their work in the library, calypsonians to sing, and John de John the novelist from Matura with thirty-five unpublished novels to read from his current novel, which he had been finishing for forever, Dorlene herself appearing on the programme playing the piano and beating the tenor pan. I was one of the calypsonians invited. It was a successful project. At the end of the series, one of the librarians was engaged to be married, one of them had moved in with a man, and a man moved in with one. Mabel, a girl who had started same time as Dorlene, was pregnant and Miss Trim the head librarian, who had been most sceptical of the idea had found romance."

I really enjoyed the circular motion of this novel. Lovelace introduces a new topic or character in the last line of one chapter and then springboards from there into the next chapter. Moments of everyday life are vividly evoked through a colourful cast of characters, while the larger cultural and political picture of Trinidad and Tobago comes slowly into focus. It's an uplifting novel infused with the magical spirit of Carnival. And it left me with a craving for calalloo and pepper sauce.

Readalikes: The Emperor of Paris (C.S. Richardson) has a similar circular style, even though it has a much different setting. Trinidadian classics to read: A House for Mr. Biswas (V.S. Naipaul) and Dream on Monkey Mountain (Derek Walcott).

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