Authors: Amanda Smyth
is Irish-Trinidadian and was educated in England. Her first novel,
(Serpent's Tail), won the Prix du Premier Roman Etranger 2010, and was selected for Waterstones New Voices in 2009. It was also chosen for Oprah's Summer Reads for 2009. Amanda was awarded an Arts Council grant for
A Kind of Eden
. She lives in Warwickshire with her husband and daughter.
âAmanda Smyth writes like a descendant of Jean Rhys.
is a powerful cocktail of heat and beautiful coolness, written in a heady, mesmerising yet translucent prose which marks Smyth out as a born novelist' Ali Smith
âOn the very first page the quality of the writing grabbed me, and I spent the whole day reading it with the greatest pleasure. A novel really does have to be the real thing to do that to me, and this is' Diana Athill
âHer writing is as lushly beautiful as the landscape she describesâit's the kind of novel that leaves your head filled with gorgeous pictures' Kate Saunders,
âSet in the intense heat and vibrant lushness of the Caribbean, this compelling novel tells the story of Celia, an orphan with a prophecy hanging over her â¦ it sings with life, texture and verve' Victoria Moore,
âThere are hints of Jean Rhys's
Wide Sargasso Sea
throughout Smyth's hypnotic, eerie novel â¦ Smyth writes entrancingly on tropical heat and light, indolence, vengeance and desire' Catherine Taylor,
âCertain novels are alive with colour. Written in lush, lyrical language evocative of its tropical setting â¦ Smyth's debut is an absorbing and morally complex read with a bittersweet twist at the end' Melissa McClements,
âIn painterly images, Smyth evocatively shows more than she tells â¦ There are echoes of the archetypal “mad woman”, if not in an attic then in a marital room in the Caribbean â¦ a vivid and compelling story, exploring the extent of our control over our destinies' Anita Sethi,
âA damaged but irresistible heroine â¦ Smyth's story is a powerful, authentic one and Celia is an appealing, earthy, yet spiritual heroine who grows, wounded and embattled, through the course of the book' Lesley McDowell,
Independent on Sunday
âA captivating read' Aisling Foster,
âThis beautifully assured debut is rich with the sumptuous vistas, poetry and spirit of the Caribbean â¦ Clashes of culture, temperament, loyalty and love jostle together, with the dramatic events and quandaries woven together with lyricism, tenderness and sensuality'
âA lovely piece of storytelling'
Waterstone's Books Quarterly
âA gripping story that transports you to rich, tropical climes â¦ An impressive debut' Holly Kyte,
A complete catalogue record for this book can be obtained from the British Library on request
The right of Amanda Smyth to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
Copyright Â© 2013 Amanda Smyth
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, dead or alive, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.
First published in 2013 by Serpent's Tail,
an imprint of Profile Books Ltd
978 1 84668 813 3
978 1 84765 804 3
Designed and typeset by Crow Books
Printed by Clays, Bungay, Suffolk
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
FOR MY MOTHER
Special thanks to: The Arts Council, Jill and Rupert Atkinson, Chris Cracknell, Ruth Petrie, Anna-Marie Fitzgerald and all the team at Serpent's Tail.
And to my sharp-eyed readers: Sharon Millar, Mez Packer, Andrew Palmer, Monique Roffey, Paul Smyth, Lee Thomas, Tindal Street Fiction Group.
Thank you Saskia Sutton for giving me a room to write in, and Mez and Orv for allowing me to camp out in their living room.
Thank you, Barrie Fernandez, for always encouraging me.
I am very grateful to my editor, Rebecca Gray, for her insight and clarity. And Lucy Luck, my agent, for her brilliant, tireless support and commitment.
Thank you, Wayne Brown, always.
Huge thanks to my mother for travelling the Atlantic three times in one year to take care of our daughter.
And finally, enormous thanks to my husband, Lee Thomas, for being there through it all. You're the best. Thank you.
They say it gets chilly here around December, almost like spring in England or in Canada. Although the days are hot, most evenings, right up until the end of February, it is cool enough to leave your butter out. Today he'd realised that wasn't true, and he told her as soon as she had arrived, presenting her with the oily glass butter dish which she always complained about. Look, his butter has melted. So what do you want, she said. A medal? At which point he didn't know whether to laugh or take offence. Then she tossed her handbag on the chair and kicked off her sandalsâthe flat tan girlish sandals she wore for workâand he knew she was okay; they would probably sleep together tonight.
Later, he looks up at the wooden rafters; there is just enough light from the passageway to see the shadows they make. Once, not long after they first met and they were lying naked, a cockroach fell and landed big and hard like a boiled egg. He shouted something, sprang from the bed and it scuttled over the sheet. Safiya laughed, and flipped up the sheet. Kill it, he said, kill it. But she lay there laughing, tears streaming down her cheeks. âYou're so English,' she said, when she found him sitting at the kitchen table. âI had no idea I was going out with such a limey.'
He clicks on the small bedside lamp; she turns, and in one movement, tugs the sheet and rolls onto her side. He stares at the triangle of her brown back and the mess of her black hair on the pillow, the neck exposed. Her skin is shining and he knows she must be hot. She has never liked the air conditioner so when she stays he turns it off. But tonight he has forgotten to open the louvers, and the air is thick from their lovemaking. The last three weekends they had made sure to visit his favourite beach at Blanchisseuse. Although they kept in the shade of the trees and close to the rocks for most of the afternoon, they both came away burned. Now her skin is tanned to a delicious shade of tea. She pulls up her arm; her fingers curl against her full soft lips. When they first got together and he admired her lips, she told him, âYes, I have a
mouth.' The gap between the nose and upper lip is short and it makes her look younger than she is. She looks quite different when her narrow, hooded eyes are shut.
A dog is barking now. It happens almost every night at this time. A gang of dogs gathers on the crossroads and when someone walks by they start and set one another off. He's been caught a few times, thinking the road is clear, walking down to Hi Lo grocery or Ali's pharmacy, and next thing they are rushing at him in a little pack. He is nervous of them: there is rabies here and a dog like that, the vicious little black one with slitty eyes like a pit bull, could rip your face right off. Some time ago, he saw a young man on the news lying in the street in a puddle of dark blood, his eye torn from its socket. âHow can they show these things on television?' he'd said to her. âWhat about the man's privacy, his family?' âGet used to it,' she said. âThis is Trinidad.'
It must be getting late. He wonders where they might eat tonight. Last week, he picked her up from outside her mother's house in Woodbrook and he didn't say where they were going. From her damp hair and sweet, soapy scent, he could tell that she was freshly bathed. On the radio, Supertramp's âLogical Song' made him think of his youth, and he cruised steadily along the west coast feeling, for no apparent reason, lighter than he'd felt in days; feeling as if he'd had good news, which he hadn't. In many ways things couldn't have been much worse.
They passed the shopping complex with its Showcase cinemaâhe had seen two films there,
War of the Worlds
âand her favourite Ruby Tuesdays restaurant, which, despite her protestations, he had never liked. Not just the dÃ©corâthe American old-fashioned posters and traditional wallpaper, but the food: he was certain they used additives in the strong saucesâbarbeque, honey glaze, garlic cream, Thousand Islandâand they made his head feel peculiar. âIt's all flavour-enhanced,' he'd said that last time, âlike fake food. No wonder it's tasty. It could only come from America.' When he told her this, she rolled her eyes and said he was getting old and miserable; you shouldn't have to worry about stuff like that at her age. âThere's nothing wrong with America,' she said. âNew York is a lot of fun. And nothing beats the shopping in Miami.' At one time, he might have mentioned a string of shops in London: Harvey Nichols, Harrods, the whole of the Kings Road, but he knew it wouldn't go down well.
After West Mall and the new Spanish-style condominiums, he slowed down. This was a wealthier part of town: you could
look up at the soft dark hills and see the middle-class houses perched there, the glow of yellow lights. He had imagined everyone at home, taking a drink on the porch, getting ready for dinner, the evening news coming on; people with lives and aspirations. But then the road became narrow, dark, the houses more ramshackle and patched up. And as they drove through the shabby village before Chaguaramas, the village where only last week a man was shot twice in the back of his head while alone watching television in his living room, he wondered what Safiya was thinking about.
âPenny,' he said. She looked at him and he saw that she was sad. He pulled up at the far end of the car park. There weren't many people here, and he was glad. It was better that way; she wouldn't be in the mood to see anyone they knew. She was wearing a purple blouse, and dark tight jeans that he'd bought for her in Long Circular Mall. He liked that she dressed up like this when they went out. And he liked when she tied back her hair, wrapped it about her fingers and twisted it into a knot; it was like watching a magic trick. He took her hand, and she didn't resist as she sometimes did, and they walked slowly and without speaking down towards the seafood restaurant where little white lights hung along the wooden balcony of the upper level.
To the right, the water was black and silky. It was night, and yet patches of blue sky were still out there towards the horizon; stars punctured the dark world above them, and he wondered if the curved line he was looking at was actually the Plough. And then there was a white curl of moon. âThe moon's like a scythe,' he said, pointing, and he felt pleased that he'd thought of this. And he recognised how romantic this moment was, and
how unlike him, or at least the him that he was used to and had known for forty-nine years.