What is the Beggarman up to when he is seen walking away from the Judge’s house with Baby Boy on the day of the murder? Why does Blanche Steadman, servant in the Judge’s house, so fear the Beggarman’s presence? What is the significance of the dress of feathers that flames and burns in the eyes of anyone who sees it? How does all this relate to the tragic death of the Judge’s first wife, who was born with caul over her eyes, the witness bearer, the prophetic conscience of both the present and the past?
At the heart of the narrative is Blanche Steadman. She is at first the traumatised sufferer of her own life-shattering tragedy and unwitting observer of the pain locked deep in the secrets of the Judge’s house. But through her reading of the Caul girl’s diaries, her closeness to the questioning, rebellious Baby-Boy, and her friendship with the market woman, Irene Gittings (who is far from what she first seems) she comes to an understanding both of her own capacities and the hidden forces at work in her world. But it is not until the very last chapter that the whole story emerges, and until that point the reader is engaged in a journey of discovery as complex and surprising as life itself. As Irene Gittings old mother says: ‘Open yuh yie, yuh sah gat sense’, implying that mostly we pay the consequences of going around with our eyes closed.
Set in Guyana, In Remembrance of Her is full of unforgettable characters like Disguile with his dreams of a new empire ruled by Black men, Irene Gittings who succumbs to the dreadful temptation to change the course of the Caul girl’s life, cross-dressing Baby-Boy with his white painted face, and Blanche Steadman, who with her enlarging vision becomes a warmly sympathetic guide for the reader to the unfolding mysteries of the story.
What emerges, beyond the individual tragedies, is the picture of a wilfully amnesiac society that shuts its eyes and ears to past and present suffering. What Harris’s gothic, richly poetic novel shows is the need for a new compassion if the restless dead are to find release and cruelty, pain, guilt and retribution are not to be endlessly recycled.
Denise Harris was born in Guyana, the daughter of the novelist Wilson Harris. She works for UNICEF in New York. She is also a photographer.