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'magical, silky poetry mixed with grit'

Written by Richard Price for New West Indian Guide on Friday, September 18, 2020

In The Frequency of Magic (Leeds: Peepal Tree Press 2019, paper £12.99), by Trinidad-born, London-based Anthony Joseph, the author’s alter-ego, a butcher named Raphael, has spent 41 years struggling to complete a novel called The Frequency of Magic—100 chapters, each exactly 1000 words long (just like the book itself). Raphael “knew that words should be allowed to land where they would land, and would not be subsumed by fixed meaning, that poetry created meaning in the gaps of language.” His characters—young Luke, the Great Bandit, the actress Emma, the musician, and so many others— slip in and out of his grasp, fighting to maintain control of their own destinies, sometimes even sneaking into his house to check what’s being said about them in the book. As in Joseph’s Kitch: A Fictional Biography of a Calypso Icon (which we called our favorite novel of 2018 in Bookshelf for that year), the vernacular is magical, silky poetry mixed with grit, village scenes where the manicou and agouti roam, real folks talking, trying by lying to get visas and sometimes surviving in overseas, and always music (some calypso and pan, much jazz). Trini to the core, with fantastic riffs, nothing quite like it: the characters wondering aloud what will happen to them next or, as one protests when he discovers that the book is on its final page: “Dead you say? Dead what? Dead who? Well, brother, tell them that when fish clap, I swim, but no axe of narrative make by man or woman can bind me in no textology. Ah going in he mother cunt!”

This is a review of The Frequency of Magic

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