This isn’t really a book review, as I read Blonde Roots a few years ago and had cause to revisit it again recently for some background reading on slavery. I’d quite forgotten what a little gem this book is.
It’s a kind of ‘alternate history’ novel that tells the story of a young girl taken from her home to work the plantations in a foreign land. But in a rather clever twist to history as we know it, Ms Evaristo has spun things around. In her world of the nineteenth century, it is the Africans who are kidnapping Europeans by the thousand and transporting them to work their farms and plantations.
The story is beautifully written and told without frills or compromise. After a while you forget that this isn’t the world as we know it, but still remain struck at the injustice and cruelty of the slave trade and how it demeans both the sufferers who endure it and the slavers who profit from it.
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m a little bit OCD. My neighbours are fascinated at how I can leave the house, get in the car, drive away, then come back twenty minutes later to rattle the front door handle. It’s locked of course. It always bloody is. Trust me; it’s unbelievably annoying.
But weirdly enough, this affliction doesn’t seem to affect my writing. I know this because I’ve managed to write and release two novels, rather than write one novel that spends eternity in a cycle of rewriting and copy-editing.
I think the reason is that I’m very methodical about my writing. In the early stages, it’s a lot like an engineering project: lots of research, character sketches, visiting possible locations…all good fun.
After that comes the creative part: raw writing. No edits, no spelling corrections; straight from my head to the paper.
When I’m happy with the story, I send it to my editor who pulls it part. I’ll get the piece back and spend a few days reading through her comments and suggestions. Then comes the part the hard part: I take a few days off. I might head off for weekend break, go on a short course, maybe visit friends and family (who probably haven’t seem much of me since I started writing the book). The point is that I don’t touch the manuscript for at least a fortnight. Never dive into an edit as soon as you get the comments back. It’s fatal.
So, a few weeks later, I can approach my editor’s comments with a fresh and slightly less hostile perspective. And this is when the fun really starts: months of redrafting and re-editing, which will probably take much longer than it did to write the first draft. Now any writer will tell you that no book is every really finished, but there comes a point where you have to say, “Oh come on! I want people to see this!” But when changes and improvements keep popping into your head, where do you draw the line? Well, I have one very simple rule for this: If I can’t think of a fix for nine and a half weeks (Why nine and half weeks? I have no idea; probably something to do with a Kim Basinger fixation I carted around as a kid) then the manuscript is ready for copy-editing. By this stage I’m usually down to changing single words or punctuation marks, and then, a day later, changing them back; that’s when I know the book is ready.
A simple story that is, for the most part, beautifully told. I felt a genuine sadness for the characters, even the ones that were only there for a few pages. The sense of place is excellent and not overdone; there’s plenty left to the imagination, and a surprising amount of drama for what is, essentially, a very long stroll. The author has a light touch, but the occasional overcooked metaphor interrupted the flow of the story (I don’t think anyone’s breath should ‘wallop’ the air), and that’s my only complaint.I think I was half way through before I put the book down for a day — just so Harold’s journey would last a little bit longer.