The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Concluding thoughts

Posted on: July 11, 2007

I didn’t address Roger Mais’ writing style in the previous post because I didn’t find much it very notable after the first three stories. It’s good, with some great sentences, but none of the wonderful descriptive passages found in his longer works. He’s predisposed to allegories that work less effectively in his short stories when it bogs down his narrative. It works best when he abandons any kind of attempt at a plot and works on his concepts, like “The Tramp”. “The Little Cobbler” was clearly about the problems of foreign businesses flourishing in Jamaica and putting the local, less technologically advanced ones out of business. It’s played out between a nice little ol’ cobbler on a street and his Cuban friend who owns a neighbouring shirt factory, as well as a rival shoe repair shop across the street, though the cobbler only knows that he owns factory. Anyway it falls kinda flat, with no real momentum, saved by the fact that it’s a short story.

He’s also much better at portraying the lower than the upper classes. In “Black Magic” his portrayal of the rich, white leisure class reads like a bad parody of them, as though he got it from watching a bad tv sitcom. I don’t know if that was intentional or not. Still I’m glad I read the whole thing and do think it’s a necessary read for anyone interested in Roger Mais’ fiction, in witnessing his development as a writer, as these stories, from what I can tell, were all written before his novels.

What pained me more than anything else was the quality of the editions. I’m grateful that Longman Caribbean printed these stories but it was somewhat shoddily done. There are typos, some of the letters in words are not properly aligned, sticking up some millimetres above the rest, and there are strange extra spaces between words that I’m sure were not intentional. The numbering of sections in the table of contents is correct, but numbered incorrectly on the actual section title page: “Section V” is “Section IV” again, which had me confused for about 3 minutes. (I’m slow, ok?) The book binding itself is fragile: I was constantly afraid of pressing on the pages too hard in case the stress destroyed the binding completely and thus loosen some of the pages. (This happened with the Longman Caribbean edition of Black Lightning and boy did I feel guilty when I returned it to the library.)

The Jonathan Cape omnibus of the novels was a hardcover and probably did not have any typos (though I suspect I’ve just forgotten them) but the pros stop there. It’s clear that that the publisher simply got three separate copies of the three novels, each with completely different fonts (not even the same size!) and stuck them together. *lifts hands into the air*

For a while I idly considered starting a publishing company myself so that I could publish these and other older Jamaican fiction, for I do not expect Andrew Salkey’s fiction to fare any better, and give them five star quality treatment. I really don’t want to purchase ratty old fragile Mais books that I can’t trust to boxes — I do move around — because one jostle will destroy them. (Also the typos! The higgledy-piggledy lettering!) I don’t see that happening though….

Anyway, one Jamaican novelist down…I don’t know how many to go. It’s Andrew Salkey next with A Quality of Violence, “set in a remote area of Jamaica about 1900, when a prolonged drought leads Christians to turn toward the older, “darker” ways of voodoo and obeah. Like many of his other books, it is narrated in a distinctive Jamaican patois that is rich with folk-speech rhythms” according to Encyclopaedia Brittanica. After I get through his novels, stories and poetry, all from which I hope to derive some pleasure, I’ll probably start on Olive Senior, even though she hasn’t written any novels, far as I can tell (pout). It will be interesting to re-read Summer Lightning and Other Stories which I read in 8th grade. The only thing I remember about it is the cover. (Vaguely.) At least I’d be able to buy pretty copies of her books since she’s with McClelland & Stewart. (I’d link you to the publisher sites listings but its search feature sucks. How can Google find the book on its site but its own search engine can’t? Wtf? )

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