Aug/Sep 1998 Book Reviews

Strange Words

Patrick Chamoiseau
Granta Paperbacks, 1998 113pp

reviewed by Ann Skea

"LISTEN: In the days of yesteryear,
life still blossomed now and again
into a kind of dreamworld. Storytellers
thus were free to lavish upon their creations
liberties that had nothing to do with lies"

Now, if you want to know how to avoid the devil of gluttony - that horrible, clawed, hairy devil with fearsome horns and long ears, and a massive tongue hammered thin as "a banana leaf dried crisp in the sun" by the Crochemort blacksmith, then you must listen to Patrick Chamoiseau.

And if you want to know how to make your fortune, as Ti-zeb did when he set out with nothing in his pocket but one of those delicious fritters called accras, then you must learn to walk along as he did: "double-time, triple-time, taking smaller steps so he could take more of them". And you must be as resourceful (and tricky, too, I'm afraid to say) as he was.

If you are the sort who would run away as fast as your legs could carry you when the Story-Teller lets loose "mobs of snakes, spiders, skinks and fat, brown mabouyas", then I'm afraid you will miss a treat. Because, whilst pimply girls with "the biggest of bad tempers" are getting their just deserts, Anastasia, the beautiful one, and Ti-Jean, "a sensitive and vindictive soul", naturally do pretty well for themselves. But if they do live happily ever after, Patrick Chamoiseau is certainly not going to guarantee it.

After you have listened to Patrick's stories (and he really didn't need to shout at me in the middle of the book, I was wide awake), you may well feel like setting off for the Caribbean to find other Creole Story-Tellers whose magic is moon-made, full of song, "opaque". "devious" and tricky.

Alternatively, enter a bookshop, gaze deep into the eyes of the nearest sales assistant, and chant:

"Patrick Chamoiseau,
Patrick Chamoiseau,
Patrick Chamoiseau"

(magic words must always be said three times), and you will see what pleasures this powerful spell can produce.


Previous Piece Next Piece