Since I haven’t read any Mario Vargas Llosa books yet…
Prospero’s Daughter, by Elizabeth overwhelms the reader with the increasing suspense, gripping characters and wonderful writing, despite the slow start. While it may be inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest, it certainly creates a spot for itself in the world of literature.
The book is set in Nunez’s native country, Trinidad, near the end of Britain’s imperialist rule. English police officer John Mumsford goes to the island of Chacachacare to investigate the attempted rape by a black boy (Carlos Codrington) on a white girl (Virginia Gardner). His job is to ensure that nobody gets word of the “incident,” for it would ruin Virginia’s pure, English reputation. However, as the plot unfolds and Carlos and later Virginia tell their side of the story, the reader discovers the horrible lies and the even more horrible truth of what really happened on the island.
The story starts out slowly. Told from Mumsford’s perspective, the reader must deal with his constant whining about the heat, bugs and even the colors of Trinidad. There is also a lot of background information on the setting and characters of the story that, while necessary, are less than exciting.
However, the suspense begins to build from page one. The reader discovers right away that an English man, Dr. Gardner, has reported the attempted rape of his daughter. It becomes obvious quickly that somebody is lying, and the rest of the novel deals with getting to the truth of the matter. As the reader learns more about what happened, both the events before, during and after Gardner goes to the police, they become increasingly appalled by the atrocities occurring on the island.
Carlos, Dr. Gardner, Virginia and Ariana, bring the plot to life. Their stories become entangled as the novel progresses. Each has their own complicated background and each tells their own story at some point in the novel.
Carlos, born from the union of a white woman and a black man, has caramel skin and blue eyes. His parents both died before he turned seven, leaving him alone on the leper-colony island, Chacachacare.
Dr. Gardner is an Englishman fleeing from his past. He is a genius gardener, and creates new species of plants that are never suffer from disease.
Virginia is his daughter, and is two years younger than Carlos. Born in England she arrives with her father in Chacachacare when she is only four years old. She feels closer to the land and people of Trinidad, like Carlos, than she does to those of England.
Ariana is the daughter of Carlos’ late housekeeper, and has adopted the role of her mother. However, instead of serving Carlos, she serves Gardner, acting as his cook, maid, spy and companion from the time she turns nine.
Nunez masterfully weaves description into the story, forcing the reader’s imagination to go into overdrive. She describes Trinidad as the idyllic island “where, in the dry season, the hills were aflame with gold and crimson blossoms from the branches of the flamboyant and dotted with the brilliant reds, yellow, pinks, and whites of the poui rising beneath a sky dazzling blue, clouds white and fluffy as new cotton.”
Her descriptions of the characters are just as rich. When Mumsford first meets Ariana, he describes “her slight frame, her small bones, her long arms that dangled from their sockets, her long legs, her bare feet, her long, long hair, her huge eyes, which one noticed next or first, if one saw her from the front and not the back.” These beautiful description of both places and people add yet another dimension to the story.
Prospero’s Daughter overflows with mystery and suspense right from the start. This plot-driven story reels the reader in with its constantly building suspense, complicated characters and beautiful descriptions, despite starting off rather slowly.
- The Nobel Prize in Literature Goes to Mario Vargas Llosa (themillions.com)
- Excerpts from the Nobel literature prize citation (seattletimes.nwsource.com)