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Gather the Faces

Written by Mary Conde for Mango Season on no date provided

This year the distinguished fiction-writer and psychotherapist Dr. Beryl Gilroy has published a trio of novels: the historical novel Inkle and Yarico, In Praise of Love and Children, a complex analysis of racism in the nineteen-fifties, and Gather the Faces.

Gather the Faces is set in the nineteen-eighties in London and Guyana, but in some ways looks back to an earlier era. Marvella, the heroine and narrator, leaves Guyana when she is three, and grows up in London where 'At the back of the house, a bombed out block stared at us, like a gaping mouth full of broken teeth. It represented what I had been taught of the world, the flesh and the devil.' The Guyana to which she returns is an idyllic one, peopled with characters like Uncle Buff, the village man of words, who makes a speech to 'Mr. Bride and Mrs. Groom' before his 'melancholy and surreptitious rendering of ""Bless this house"".' Uncle Buff and the tranquil beauty of the Guyanese countryside recall an earlier work by Beryl Gilroy, Sunlight on Sweet Water, her reminiscences of a Guyanese childhood.

But Gather the Faces is not entirely an idyll. The kindly middle-aged aunts whose arrival opens the novel have an unexpected connection with the bombed out London block, for, as the rebellious young woman, Marsha says, 'The world, the flesh and the Devil lick their skirt like fire.' Marsha, a burgeoning feminist, leaves the aunts’ church because she has been harshly criticised for taking the pill, and accused, she says, of trembling her backside when she walks.

Marvella is more biddable, but even she is troubled by her feelings for the predatory and ‘bold faced’ Carlton Springle during her engagement to the far more suitable and ultimately triumphant Ansel. We follow much of her relationship with Ansel through her correspondence with him, from the first hilariously stilted letters to an unknown pen friend to the full-blown love letters in which she
expresses her longings for a new life with him.

Gather the Faces is essentially the story of Marvella’s redefinition of herself in relation to her friends, her family and her native Guyana. Its great triumph is in its language, in such observations as '… when one of my uncles got married, it took off his spirit like a jacket,' and 'Faith had returned with its feather duster.' It is an entertaining, tender and moving story.

This is a review of Gather the Faces

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