Reading The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey is a lot like that in a sense, the fall down the giant rabbit hole — where Trinidad is through the rabbit hole — filled with some of the kinds of absurdisms, the likes of which, seen only in Wonderland. Except it’s not Wonderland. And it’s based on reality: cops who pass out thuggish beat-downs that no one is held accountable for, almond-coloured people who consider their pedigree, “social” (and sometimes racial) white, (blackness be damned, not to mention Eric Williams and his insolent, black self) and yes, even stuff like that infernal, puffed-up, arial slug floating by: the infamous blimp gliding over Port of Spain and elsewhere on the island, which Roffey references throughout the book, ominously watching over some of its characters, “staring, just like the sky stared, another pair of eyes”, “high above, farcical, spectral” (13).
Perhaps, because Trinidad is also my land, (some of) the absurd facets of life there, strike my nerves more because of the acute understanding; the warm and worn familiarity like the curve of a lover’s lower back, and I could appreciate that; an author taking the time to do so, well. Not so much blatantly saying, this place is absurd in some ways, and backward; and people who live there have to deal with so much bull-crap; from a police force that is largely inefficient, to pretending to be blind to how race & social standing can insulate you from a lot, all the while suffering from or benefitting from it etc. and etc. No, it’s not so much saying it all like that, than painting this engaging series of events over the course of time that gets me thinking about all of that.
With regards to Trinidad, Roffey shows, not tells very well. But where she tells was very nicely crafted too. The island is lush, pulsating — incorrigible, even. The ‘Caribbean gothic’ elements were seductive and evocative — Trinidad was bewitching and alive. I appreciated the darker moments in the book a lot, which is really where some of the strongest word & image magic happen in the story. Likewise, for her use of language: I love that the word “cunt” appears — like she wasn’t afraid to write that way. And it’s used for vagina. I can dig that (of course, Trinis are also partial to manifestations of the word cunt — most often heard as swear word-cum-problematic-descriptor).
Roffey’s explication on race relations surprised and pleased me for the most part. Also, I rarely get to see Trini writers grapple with and contextualise racial constructs like that, devoid of certain kinds of fluff. When Irit, a friend of the protagonist says of slavery: “What? Forget about the past, just like that? No one would dare say that to a Jew!” — I am pleased. When she says, “Forget the Holocaust? Six million gassed. Oh, just forget about it. Get on with it?” (249) — I am positively giddy– mainly because it’s the kind of thing that I would (and have) said myself when certain kinds of people start mewling about black people needing to
get over forget their history. The arc of person-as-colonial-relic-gets-beguiled-by-island-paradise though a little tired by itself, gets dealt with well here and most of all, gets complicated in a multitude of ways. In many ways, the book is a polished gem; I’d recommend unearthing it.