Love crosses social boundaries and survives years of separation, in Canadian author Mootoo’s lush, sensuous second novel.
The contrasted settings are Vancouver’s Elderberry Bay and the fictional island of Guanagaspar, an “unprotected archipelago strewn to one side of the Caribbean Sea.” It begins in “the present day,” with emigrant Vancouver landscape gardener Harry St. George’s dream of his homeland (and of a destructive tidal wave) juxtaposed with the memories of an imperious government official’s wife initially identified only as “Madam”—whose relationship to Harry becomes clear when an emergency phone call from Madam’s daughter recalls him to Guanagaspar. The story’s long central section relates the brief marriage of Harry’s (Hindu) Indian mother Dolly to the fisherman Seudath (drowned when his boat is lost at sea), and the innocent friendship that develops, throughout the 1940s, between young Harry and Rose Sangha, the privileged daughter of the kindly matron who employs Dolly as her housemaid and accepts her as a friend. But wartime tensions and the haughty domestic tyranny of Sangha père “exile” Harry from Rose’s company, even when they later attend the same school, and after Rose weds the island’s future attorney general—finally sending Harry to his new life in Canada. The reader infers these identities and relationships only gradually, thanks to an inexplicably convoluted structure that emphasizes the singularity of Mootoo’s characters without clearly presenting them. All is explained eventually by the climax, in which Harry’s hopeful return to Guanagaspar is met by the news announced in Mootoo’s title, a flurry of new information blended with more flashbacks and a curious, dramatically unsatisfying resolution. Mootoo’s second aims to be a Caribbean Wuthering Heights, but its perplexing obscurity removes it as far from Emily Brontë’s Yorkshire as from her novel’s shapely clarity.
After the author’s fine debut, Cereus Blooms at Night (1998), this is a disappointment.