I’ll admit, this book has been sitting on my shelf since 2011. But after writing last week’s post, “Magical Realism in Afro-literature”, I was finally motivated to dust it off and crack the binding. What better time to pour myself into James’ haunting yet ethereal slave narrative than a month in which we celebrate magical realism and its contribution to the literary world?
Set in Jamaica, The Book of Night Women is a rare mixture of beautiful, lyrical prose and engaging narrative. It isn’t often that I am captivated by a novel within the first few pages (or first few chapters) but The Book of Night Women had me hooked after this powerful first paragraph:
“People think blood red, but blood don’t got no colour. Not when blood wash the floor she lying on as she scream for that son of a bitch to come, the lone baby of 1785. Not when the baby wash in crimson and squealing like it just depart heaven to come to hell, another place of red. Not when the midwife know that the mother shed too much blood, and she who don’t reach fourteen birthday yet speak curse ‘pon the chile and the papa, and then drop down dead like old horse. Not when blood spurt from the skin, or spring from the axe, the cat-o-nine, the whip, the cane and the blackjack and every day in slave life is a day that colour red. It soon come to pass when red no different from white or blue or nothing. Two black legs spread wide and a mother mouth screaming. A weak womb done kill one life to birth another. A black baby wiggling in blood on the floor with skin darker than midnight but the greenest eyes anybody ever done see. I goin’ call her Lilith. You can call her what they call her.”
Admittedly, the quote above is a bit lengthy but WOW! I can almost hear the author’s cadence as I read and feel the character’s energy seeping from the page. It’s no secret that I believe a strong opening is an indication of a great novel. My theory has so far proven true with this text. I initially planned to read only the first few paragraphs but 50 pages later, I was completely immersed in the world Marlon James created.
Needless to say, I’m pleasantly surprised with the author’s talent thus far. I love the feeling of unexpectedly falling in love with a book . . .