Monday, October 12, 2009

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle

by Monique Roffey.

Monique Roffey’s second novel is set against the fertile and dynamic backdrop of the West Indian island of Trinidad. It is a story of political unrest and personal isolation. Evidently, Roffey’s birthplace is today a significant influence on her work and the novel, like its setting, is humming with feminine breath and life.

Cleverly, the narrative is broken in two halves which take the reader from present to past in a couple’s experiences as expatriates, each with a very different set of expectations and attitudes. George and Sabine are poles apart. He is completely comfortable being an outsider in this strange groaning land, while Sabine yearns to understand the people and challenge the status quo. Both halves of the book work well independently as the characterisation is both powerful and honest. The relationship between Sabine and George is fraught with unspoken bitterness and feelings of resentment and loss. Yet, the power of their shared experiences is too strong and intoxicating for any real separation to take place. It is a husband and wife carved into the undulating hills of painfully beautiful prose.

Roffey’s great strength is her incredible ability to bring the island to life. The personification of the hill behind George and Sabine’s home is so convincing it is not at all strange that Sabine speaks to the mighty land before her.
Sabine drifted out onto the grass, staring up at the hill above the house, the hip of the green woman, a woman lying on her side, never any doubt about that. A woman trapped in the mud, half sculpted from the sticky oil-clogged bedrock, half made. She was also stuck. Half out, half in…You, Sabine addressed the hill. All you do is watch. That’s all you’ve ever done. Sit back and observe the disaster going on.

Sabine’s observation of the hill in the shape of a trapped woman is evocative of her own feelings of isolation and disappointment with her lot. As a young bride in the 1950s, her love for George and the reassurance of his three year contract with Forbes-Mason to the West Indies saw Sabine wheeling her green bicycle off the Cavina frightened and unsure.
This passionate novel is a celebration of life and death and love and hate; where human emotions are fully experienced for better or worse.

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