This book, ‘Here Comes the Sun’ by Nicole Dennis-Benn really ticked me off, I have to admit. It was VERY hard for me to read such a difficult treatment of Jamaica and the ways in which the tourism industry has made commodities out of the things that are most beautiful and precious about the island–not just its scenery but also its people. It was an unflinching and unromantic portrayal of the other side of paradise, that most people don’t see. Once done, I had to admit that though I didn’t like the picture the author portrayed, it wasn’t untrue. I recommend.
My review on Goodreads:Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Y. Dennis-Benn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Talk about a sad, tragic story. First, it bears saying and emphasizing that Nicole Dennis-Benn is an incredibly talented writer. Her prose is beautiful, lyrical and visual. She conjures up every one of the senses so vividly that I felt like I was right there in the hot, dusty community of River Bank as it suffers through drought, extreme poverty and an impending development project that threatens to displace residents from their homes, leaving them nowhere to go.
This would and could have been a five-star read for me, and frankly, I’m not sure it wasn’t a five-star read, and it is entirely possible that many of my criticisms are because I came to this book with a bias. I was raised in Jamaica and so the country and its people are familiar to me, as are its challenges and weaknesses and prejudices, much of which is explored in this novel.
But for me, this book presented the country and its poor as people almost uniformly made soulless by deprivation, made morally bankrupt by poverty, and with nary a redeeming quality among them. I resented that, I have to admit, because I thought it was a one-dimensional view of the island and its people, through the characters. The mothers who blithely exploit their daughters, or stand by while they are exploited; the men who rape women and children or abandon their families; the white Jamaicans who belittle and despise the Black Jamaicans; apparently all Jamaicans who loathe people who are LGBTQ; and the government that sells out its citizens … it went on and on, and on. And even the protagonists (if they can be called that) morphed from earnest strivers at the beginning of the book into mercenary opportunists, never managing to develop anything approaching a sustainable connection with another human being.
Apart from the hopelessly naive Thandi, Charles, the poor boy who loves her, and Verdene, the lesbian who lives in a community that never tires of persecuting her, scarcely a single character in this novel (primary or secondary) made me feel much more than contempt. And Thandi, Charles and Verdene were somewhat less sympathetic because often, they lacked agency and were at the whim of more malevolent characters, which made them pitiful even when they were at times noble and high-minded.
As I read, I kept asking myself, ‘what is this author trying to say?’ I settled on the possibility that her core theme may have been exploitation and how easily the exploited and persecuted can become the exploiter and persecutor; and how that ultimately, is a zero-sum game. Through long monologues, the characters rail at each other about what they have sacrificed and what they are owed, what was done to them, and how that justifies the odious things they do. It became almost tiresome, but not in the sense of being exasperating, but it literally made me tired. It felt like a point was being made over and over again, but in the manner of a poison pen, where after a while, the narrative felt less like illustration and more like bitter exposition.
As for the plotting, it was very tightly and cleverly executed, with some genuinely surprising reveals, always impeccably timed for greatest impact. Not all literary fiction writers can do this, but Nicole Dennis-Benn’s pacing is absolutely flawless. I did, at times, wish there was less intrigue and more character exposition. I knew thoroughly who all these people were by the end, but at times, I was unconvinced as to the why of who they were, or what they became.
Ultimately, this is an excellent book, grim in subject matter but for me, dubious as to motive. Recommended.
View all my reviews