*Winner of the Commonwealth Writer's Prize for Best First Book, and the Guyana Prize for Best Book*
Back in 1966, each of a group of Guyanese sixth-formers is ‘sentenced’ to write a short story that reflects their newly independent country. Years later, Mark McWatt, one of the group, is handed the papers of his old school friend, Victor Nunes, who has disappeared, feared drowned, in the interior. The papers contain some of the stories written before the project collapsed. As a tribute to Victor, McWatt decides to collect the rest of the stories from his friends.
Whether written by their youthful or adult selves, the stories reveal not only their tellers and the Guyana most of them have left, but offer an affectionately satirical take on Guyanese fiction making. Amongst the stories, we read about the sexual awakening of a respectable spinster by a naked bakoo in a jar; an expedition into the Guyanese interior that turns into a painful homoerotic encounter; a schoolboy who is projected into an alarming science fiction future; and about an academic (in a brilliantly tragicomic story) who confesses the betrayal of his friend. There is Victor Nunes’ visionary story that blurs the frontiers between past and present and, in the concluding story, Mark McWatt reveals how the group came to be handed down their suspended sentences.
In this tour-de-force of invention, by ranging across Guyanese ethnicities, gender and time in the purported authorship of these stories, Mark McWatt creates a richly dialogic work of fiction.
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Corentyne Thunder, Berbice Crossing, Suspended Sentences,
Sunlight on Sweet Water
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Mark McWatt is the recently retired Professor of West Indian literature at UWI, Cave Hill. He is joint editor of the Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse(2005).