- Home of the Best in Caribbean & Black British Writing -

In Remembrance of Her

Written by Eusi Kwayana for n/a on no date provided

In Remembrance of Her is Denise Harris's second novel, based, like the first, in Guyana. Like her Web of Secrets, it shows a fascination with the secret life, which it does not prefer, and with hidden narratives. It glories in the real selves behind the specially devised images that walk to cars and sit in drawing rooms, live in modest mansions or in cottages, make waves in the society, or shrink and fade into the shadows.

It is told as though memories are interacting with one another, as though the people were mere bodies and the recollections are everything. The name is not just a good line, but is the soul of the story, which, by the way, drills the memory.

The author finds a Prologue useful to set things in motion. There we meet the ""old woman"" who gets no clearer name in the whole story, perhaps a sign that she is of the past rather than of the future or present. The old woman sets the atmosphere of approaching doom with some insinuating verses from the Bible seemingly chosen at random. The lines warn and exhort. It is 1975. The warnings gain rapid credence. Like the human memory, the tale unfolds through the recollection of many, mainly women, who recall events going back to the 1940s, and then leaping forward to the present, and then reversing to the sixties, in no order but what the author thinks fit for her theme or for our thirst for surprise.

As the tale runs on, Eternity comes into time; the hereafter is here and few if any escape their harvests. If it looks to the Old Testament for atmosphere, the story has its own theology. It also redefines sin as acting against the well being another and places the Day of Judgment a few episodes away. It is a more compelling disincentive to recklessness than fire and brimstone, although there is also fire in the remote origins of the story. It is at once a tale of real life and a study in the metaphysics of malice and of goodness.

In Remembrance of Her has a central figure, a modern day tragic hero of the Shakespearean mould, except that he is not allowed to reflect, even briefly, on his own downfall by a car balanced by his seizure of her property. For children it is not a safe times or places. This must be read through the more manifest themes. The young die good, or encounter early peril. Of the two young males in the story, one, ominously nameless, is fatally run over even before the time of the prologue. Two baby girls grow into womanhood. Her widowed mother does not value one, the darker sister of LadyBird, the judge's wife. The judge marries the other, Caul Girl, and then sidelines and discards her for the more light-coloured and pampered, who excites the social circles for two decades. Yet it is Caul Girl, whose mystique rules the mood of the story and captivates its main survivors. Born blind, she becomes the ward of a physician who cures her malady, but the wise woman caring her clones her into a wonder-worker and a prophetic diarist. Her memory wields great power taking centre-stage as the story winds down and final revelations are made.

Dependent and generous individuals, the less recognized elements of society, loyally protect the tragedies of the middle class, firmer in aspirations than in strength.

Interaction between the useful and wise on the one side and the well-placed and educated, upwardly mobile, elite is the mechanism of the story. There is no imposition of an external motivation like a political agenda or an epidemic or environmental disaster. The deeds and doings flow from inter-social relations, family, social striving, self-preservation, ambition, generosity, struggle for space and respect.

Chiefly it is the women who are the angels of Judgment Day. First among them is the old woman's bed-stricken cousin, a volume of family history and quality gossip. Under encouragement from the old woman, the original omen-giver her cousin recounts and illustrates the hidden origins of the tale for the Stranger. Blanche Steadman, for her part, tells the secrets of her prison house to him, the stranger, who has been the judge's confidant.

The society seems to be forbidden ground for Youth, whose. extinction is can be anticipated. It is Blanche Steadman whose son, not known by name, that is fatally run over at the age of five. She is a fine example of an distraught, innocent offender whose burning of her husband, Disguile's, thriving shop and their family home we easily erase .It is her way of dealing with the killing of their son which she lays at Disguile's feet. She knows by insight that what the judge's household is going through does not begin or end there, but is typical of the times.

""Anyway you want to know why I tellin you so many different things? Talkin' about the pastor, the people's sudden conversions, and the bank manager-whatever-instead of stickin' to the judge story. I guess cause it just show how Babayboy''s murder and the judge's arrest terrible storm shake all of us up. Maybe something catch fire in our hearts, if you know what I mean. Hearts that turn rusty over the years, .So maybe what take place inside this house, although it may appear to be something separate from what goin' on outside of it, come like one big mirror of this whole country leavin' us face to face.""

The Judge's daughter with his first wife, Caul Girl, whom he dramatically humiliates at an Old Year' Night dance, is another child tragedy. He arranges for Caul Girl to be admitted to the mental hospital where she dies and deports their daughter at some expense, which he recovers by taking her mother's property. The other, Bbabyboy, an age mate, of Steadman's son is barely twenty when he dies violently at the hands of his eminent father. It is not a pleasant time. for the young. The young die good, or run into early peril.

Of the remarkable women crowding the story, stunning social favourite, LadyBird, has married the judge. in part to give purpose to her life, and cop a coveted prize, while he , as a ""coal Black man"" has married her partly to play up to the post colonial colour preferences . The judge's fans and supporters understand, and flatter their mutual coveniences.

The ""old woman"" and her cousin of sixty in the house across the street are in their own way class elders. The unnamed cousin has known Ladybird, her dark-skinned Indian mother and white father and in her lucid moments fully remembers how the dark-skinned sister of the mother's colour, was hidden in the home from public view, while Ladybird received royal treatment.

Irene Gittens a woman from the fringes has wielded power over leading characters .She is part of in the Doctor's household when he and his wife adopt Caul Girl. The doctor surgically removes the cauls and then they ask Gittens to take charge of her. Caul Girl. Gittens admits that her folk medical; handling of the cauls turns the child into what she later becomes, in the prehistory of the action, a woman of the shadows, crossing the border from one side to the other. By the time Caul Girl and the Judge marry, she has a reputation for mystery,

Dependent and generous individuals in the less recognized corners of society protect the tragedies of the middle class, firmer in aspirations than in strength. The dropouts were their comfort givers, their solace, and their counsellors, the people with the spiritual resources.

Male characters are few and fewer still are their virtues. Readers will not miss the judge's social handyman, This unnamed personality conspired at the humiliation of Caul Girl without sense of remorse. When his friend was inducted with murder he took on the role of private detective and pressed investigations in the bereaved household hoping to criminals Blanche Steadman and release his class ikon from perception of guilt. When this did not work he was shaken and was impelled stumbling towards what decency he could recover. As things went he and Irene Gittens knew each other and about each other and in a restaurant conversation they help fill in some of the missing links of the tale..

Caribbean writers of the contemporary fiction, especially Guyanese where the real society is ethnically charged as well as healthy in some other ways and unhealthy in others. For the Love of My Name novel based in the post 1968 dictatorship in Guyana went overboard in its creativity by placing actual landmark incidents in a time context that was not actual. The present novel speaks of popular enthusiasm for a government at Independence hardly hinting at the limits of that popularity.

Perhaps the fusion of high court judge and political leader is the author's way of reflecting the quality of governance then prevailing. It is a tale of rich souls, with Disguile, the noble, long suffering beggar finding with the youth a better way than revenge, shining in his less successful incarnation, And rising and fading throughout the sombre moods of the niovel is the spirit of Caul Girl, who is much talked of and speaks eloquently for her self through her diaries, in mysterious prophecy and poetry.

This is a review of In Remembrance of Her

View this book
- Home of the Best in Caribbean & Black British Writing -