HE DROWN SHE IN THE SEA by Shani Mootoo (McClelland & Stewart), 354 pages, $29.99 cloth. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
I had second-novel doubts about Shani Mootoo's He Drown She In The Sea. How could she top her beautiful and highly acclaimed 1998 debut, Cereus Blooms At Night?
A dozen pages in, I was relieved to discover she's done it again. This evocative, multi-generational story follows several characters, each as rich and flawed as the next, from their first moments on earth till their near end. Vividly detailed yet surprisingly fast paced, the story twists and turns, leading the reader to unexpected places through a carefully assembled narrative structure.
As in Cereus, Mootoo explores the complications of race and social class. Set on Guanagasper, a tiny fictional Caribbean island, around the time of the second world war, then outside Vancouver in the present day, the novel tells a story of lives influenced intensely by social hierarchies.
Harry St. George is Indian, raised in a small fishing village by his mother, Dolly, who was widowed early in life. Her husband, abandoned as a baby, was raised by two African parents who watch over Dolly and Harry despite the barriers set up by the island's implicit social caste system. Dolly takes a job as a servant for a wealthy Indian family in town, and Harry spends his childhood adoring the daughter of the boss and madame, Rose. The children grown up enamoured with one another until eventually the rules of society dictate that they separate.
Fast forward to present day British Columbia, where Harry, a successful landscaper, has never let go of his longing for Rose, whose daughter is a whip-smart Vancouverite. Her mother pays a visit. Drama ensues.
I won't spoil it for you; each detail is worthy of your complete attention.