Sept/Oct 1999 Book Reviews

Solibo Magnificent

Patrick Chamoiseau
Granta, 1999 191pp
ISBN: 1 86207 028 8

reviewed by Ann Skea

Solibo Magnificent, like Patrick Chamoiseau, is a great teller of tales. Sadly, he dies, "throat snickt by the word." Or is it murder?

This is an innovative, strange and complex detective story. It is steeped in the atmosphere, culture and linquistic quirks of Martinique, peopled by an assortment of characterful characters, and full of curious symmetries which mourn the death of the oral literary tradition of which Chamoiseau is a part. As, indeed, he is part of the story - "List of witnesses:....Patrick Chamoiseau, nicknamed Chamzibié, Ti-Cham, or Oiseau de Cham, claims to be "wordscratcher", in reality has no occupation....".

"My Friend
Here the Master of the word
swerves into the sharp curve of destiny
and plunges us
into ill-luck
(Tears for whom?
For Solibo.)

Perhaps. But not for Chamoiseau. His curve of destiny has taken him from an oral tradition into a written style which is richly inventive and surprising, and which lacks only the physical presence of the storyteller and ritual vocal responses from the audience. Other voices and accents you hear in your head. The action grows vivid in your imagination. Even your eyes are entertained - by strange Creole words, sharp aphorisms, random quotations and unexpected textual riffs and patterns.

All the traditional delights of oral story-telling are translated into text with superb skill as Chamoiseau charms, titillates, provokes and misleads his readers. At the same time, this is a much more complex book than _Strange Words_, and it requires more than just imagination to read the serious intent beneath the story.

As Rose-Myriam Réjouis puts it in the Afterword:

"The old storyteller makes way for a new kind of story writing....[But] while on the one hand Chamoiseau's text does achieve an artful symbiosis between orality and literature..., it also serves as a sociolinguistic battlefield....the police translate Solibo's death into a murder and his listeners into suspects, misnaming everything and ravaging lives in order to create a "case"(a work of fiction)."

On whatever level you choose to read it, this is an unusual and interesting book.


Previous Piece forums serendipity Next Piece

What did you think?