Second novel from the Trinidadian journalist (A Thirst For Rain, 1999, not reviewed), a richly textured love story with a gritty setting—a gambling den/bordello—about a bargirl and a would-be boxing champ wising up to life and love.
Young Odile dreamed of becoming a doctor but fell pregnant at 17. In a fight with neighbor Rory, a young man whose father Saul becomes abusive when drunk, she lost the baby. Now, four years later, she works in a seedy bar owned by Miss Ling, an old Chinese woman, and sleeps with Vincent, Miss Ling’s grandson. The bar is also a bordello, but Odile refuses to have sex with her customers. Meanwhile, Rory is training to be a boxer but also works for a pharmaceutical company, a job that brings him into contact with bored drugstore-owner Zenobia, who insists they make love when Rory comes by on business. Rory feels guilty about hurting Odile, whom he’s loved from boyhood; Odile, in turn, has long forgiven him—the fight was an aberrant moment provoked by her own self-disgust—but still feels guilty for the relief she felt when she miscarried. In fact, she became a bargirl because it’s what she felt she deserved. As Vincent tries to persuade Miss Ling to modernize the premises, Rory confronts Saul about his drinking and thievery; Odile realizes she doesn’t love Vincent after all, and Rory and she begin seeing each other again, first by accident then by design. An old friend, helps Rory face his fears of becoming murderously angry when provoked—outside as well as inside the ring; and Odile does some heartsearching of her own. But it takes a fire, started by Vincent, and a false arrest before the two really start talking.
Too neatly affirming, but the details of life and landscape are fair compensation.