The Coral Rooms

Written by Sasenarine Persaud for World Literature Today Summer 1995 on

"The Coral Rooms, Anthony Kellman’s first novel, is set on the fictitious island of Charouga, similar in many ways to Kellman’s native Barbados. The protagonist, Percival Veer, the public-relations manager of the Charouga Federal Bank and a former journalist, mirrors details from Kellman’s life. Veer’s ex-wife and teenage kids live in New York. His present wife Materia is a former beauty contestant ten years his junior. By Materia’s choice, theirs is a childless marriage, for she wants to see the world. Outwardly, the dreadlocked Veer has all the trappings of a successful life: a good job, a Mercedes, and a fashionable house.

Nevertheless, Veer is troubled by rumors of Materia’s infidelity during her visits to various parts of the world while pursuing her fashion business. Through flashbacks, Kellman skillfully reveals his protagonist’s sticky conscience. Burrowes, a madman on the street who threatens him with death, was once Veer’s chief rival for his present position. Veer got the position by paying a prostitute, a
dougla girl from Gowana (Guyana?), to seduce Burrowes. The recording of the liaison destroys Burrowes’s career at the bank as well as his family. Perhaps the most enthralling part of the novel is that section of part 1 which deals with the courtship of Veer and Materia. Kellman is at his lyrical best here. Toward the end of this flashback the protagonist begins to realize that he was seduced by Materia. His money finances her design business - before marriage - and her world travels.
Veer’s past returns to haunt him. He too has been unfaithful to Materia. The tension in the novel derives from Veer’s dream of a cave on the island and his compunction to explore this cave - a metaphor of self-redemption perhaps, of his having to die for the 'death' he has caused Burrowes, of being reborn in the primeval innocence of the first creation. Part 2 is about his search for the location of this dream cave, with the assistance of Arrow Cane (his man Friday), and his near death by drowning as he strikes out to the innermost chamber. Dreamlike, in his near drowning, he sees the Amerindians at the coming of Columbus, corrupted by the baubles of the Spaniards, much like his wife Materia and himself. Arrow Cane revives him, and in a day-by-day biblical re-creation of the world - the novel ends on the seventh day after his resuscitation - he finally comes to terms with the balancing of the spiritual and material worlds.

Of necessity, due to the nature of Veer’s journey, the second part of The Coral Rooms veers toward that most concrete of abstractions. This makes for difficult reading, and the work loses the lyricism and hold of the opening section. Wilson Harris describes the novel as 'a realistic and convincing portrait of self loathing.' Harris is mistaken. This is a novel about that love for self which motivates Percival Veer to risk losing all his material wealth, to touch that spark of goodness which lights every consciousness."