Sandra Yansen must leave behind the close ties of family and village when she goes away to take up a job as a reporter in Georgetown. When she says goodbye to her friends T and Estelle in her Berbice village, portrayed with a sensuous sensitivity to the mysteries of place, she feels that leaving Pheasant is a betrayal and is confused about where she stands in the quarrel between her mother Helen, who is pro-town and her father, Ben, who is deeply attached to the country and its values.
She finds the capital riven by racial conflict and the growing subversion of political freedom. Her newspaper has become the mouthpiece of the ruling party and she finds her ability to tell the truth as a reporter increasingly restricted. In the office she has to confront the chauvinism and vulnerability of her male colleagues whilst at the same time finding common cause with them in meeting the ambivalent challenges of Guyana’s independence.
Yet, uncomfortable as she frequently is in the city, where people ‘break up the ground under each other’s feet’, Sandra knows that she is growing in a way that Pheasant would not allow. With Son Young she begins to explore the possibilities of a relationship which is both intimate and equal. But when Sandra is summoned home with the news that Helen is seriously ill, and re-encounters the enduring matriarchy of her mother’s friends, Nurse, Miss K., Noor and Zena, she knows once again how much she is losing. It is their values that sustain Sandra in her search for an independence which does not betray Pheasant’s communal strengths.
Fred D’Aguiar wrote of Timepiece ‘recovering a valuable past for posterity and enriching our lives in the process’ and Ann Jordan in Spare Rib reviewed it as ‘not a novel to be taken at face value, for its joy lies in the fact that it works on so many different levels... the subtleties and tensions of life are not far from the surface as the author questions the notions of political as well as individual dependence and independence’. Timepiece won the 1987 Guyana prize.
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Jan Lowe Shinebourne was born in Guyana and now lives in Sussex, U.K. She is writing her fourth work, a family saga spanning the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; set in China, Europe and the Caribbean.