Books

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle – Monique Roffey

George and Sabine have a rather odd marriage. There is three people in it. The other woman is Trinidad. Not a third person but the actual country.

When George and Sabine Harwood make the move to Trinidad in 1956, they were only meant to be staying for a minimum of three years which was as long as the contract George had with his company. George falls in love with Trinidad  immediately and begins a love affair with the place from the moment he steps off the boat. Not only is this an island vastly different from the England he left in the mid 1950s but he is more of a ‘someone’. He is important, he can buy land, mark his territory make his way further up the class ladder in this small place. George was never going to be that in England.

Sabine cannot reconcile herself to this place, so different from home. She feels so far away and is permanently hot and is counting the days down until she can return to the cool place of England and not worry about who she speaks to and can be friends with. Sabine is trapped in a place where she cannot speak her mind. The only way she can be free is to get on her bicycle, green and go down meet George from work or simply to try and escape the island which has taken her husband.

The locals all know the White Woman on the Green Bicycle.  One day Sabine stumbles across a gathering of locals who all seem to be enthralled by one speaker – Eric Williams. Sabine learns that he is the leader of the new national party and becomes obsessed with him. His values and his ideals, not in a sexual or romantic way. She wants answers to issues which she feels strongly about, those which affect her maids. People it is frowned upon for her to associate herself with.

Sabine decides to write to him, to explain it all. But she does not send the letter. Sabine continues to write over the years and never send the letter, simply keeping them until one day George finds them.

George sees his future in Trinidad. Sabine does not and this third person drives a wedge between them and it is never resolved. We know this from the very beginning of the novel, as it starts at the end. An interesting concept which I was a bit wary of. You know what happens but how is the author going to take the reader back to the beginning and guiding us through to what we already know in the first few pages.

I struggled with the first 200 pages of the book, all from George’s point of view. I did not warm to him as a character and found his attitude racist and he gave the impression of being a white man there to save the country despite the major changes that were happening. He could not see the change.

Past this we are taken through the rest of the story with Sabine. A character who was really struggling to be heard and seen by her husband. She can see the changes and wants to move away from them, back to a safe environment. However, she cannot do anything to convince her husband and I felt let down by her that she could not make the journey away on her own. Whilst Trinidad held onto her husband, Sabine held onto George and was not prepared to let go.

A different book from what I normally read, I wasn’t sure what I was getting with it and although the story was rather boring in parts, I learnt a lot about Trinidad and the political and colonial history of the place from these two ex- pats. It intrigued me that we had the ending first and I wanted to see how that was going to work out. It worked but perhaps not with the impact it could have done. The language is colourful and in keeping with the culture, my technique is to try and hear the words, so I can get more of an idea. This worked sometimes, but not others and I felt I was reading and had no idea what was being said. These are all minor personal preferences.

The book is perhaps bit too long and unless you have a particular interest in colonial history then this may not be the book for you.

I read this for my book club. It was a random choice which I had seen pop up now and again. However, many members are struggling with it and I can see some not finishing it. I have encouraged them to get past the ‘George’ section as I felt the book got better past there. I know the languages is a struggle for some “Let de dog go bite it,nuh,den dey go see somptin”. It takes a few rereads and not even then did I get it all. Much more difficult than The Help and some have commented on the fact it is similar to The Secret Life of Bees that we have previously read. 

I look forward to our discussion – I venture it could be a short one! 

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