Cereus Blooms at Night

Shani Mootoo, Author Grove/Atlantic $23 (272p) ISBN 978-0-8021-1633-8
The fecund and fertile cycles of Caribbean life pervade this powerful first novel from Mootoo (Out on Main Street), who invokes all the senses, especially sight and smell, to portray the town of Paradise on the fictional island of Lantanacamara. When Mala Ramchandin, the town madwoman and a rumored murderess, checks into the Paradise Alms Hotel, the only nurse compassionate enough to properly care for her is Tyler, the young narrator of the tale. As a gay man who has always been considered an oddity on the island, he forms an outsider's friendship with Mala. While Tyler slowly gains Mala's trust, readers more clearly see the mosaic that makes up Mala's sad, enigmatic life and come to understand her strange ""uncivilized"" habits as a form of self-preservation against cruelties endured, including her mother's abandonment, the incestuous relations forced on her by her father and, most haunting of all, the loss (via emigration) of her beloved younger sister. Tyler himself becomes more complex as he reflects on his sexuality. His self-discovery and the secrets of Mala's past might in other hands have become the stuff of melodrama, but Mootoo puts this material to much finer use in a narrative reminiscent of Maryse Conde's work. The seamless plot structure builds to a macabre, satisfying climax and to equally satisfying portraits of two memorable, complex characters against a fascinating, sensuously rendered background. (Sept.) FYI: Cereus Blooms at Night was a finalist for the 1997 Giller Prize, the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. One of Mootoo's paintings appears on the cover; she has exhibited her work internationally. She is also a filmmaker.
Reviewed on: 08/31/1998
Release date: 09/01/1998
Genre: Fiction
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