Saturday, July 01, 2006

Jamaica Kincaid's "Annie John"

Jamaica Kincaid's Annie John is the subject of the most recent installment from Jane Smiley's Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel; for previous entries, see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Smiley writes:

Annie John is a narrowly focused and intense portrayal of the inner life of an adolescent girl growing up in Antigua in the 1950s and 1960s. It begins in paradise. Annie is 10 years old. She lives an orderly and affection-filled existence with her mother and father in a small house he has built, which her mother keeps perfectly in order. Annie adores her mother and loves being in her presence, helping her with her daily tasks, dressing like her, being made to feel cherished and protected by her mother's knowledge and special rigour. The next nine chapters detail Annie's simultaneous disillusionment and quest for independence as she becomes "a young lady" (a very suspect category), a star student in a rigidly British educational system, and her mother's loved and hated antagonist. The last chapter details Annie's vivid ambivalence about her departure from the island and from her parents. She is now taller and stronger than her father, disdainful of her mother, and in a fever to leave the island, but the reader knows through the very richness of the novel that Annie can never quite leave behind the sharp combination of pleasure and pain that has been the strongest feature of her passionate childhood.
Kincaid herself of course grew up in Antigua where her education was "based on English classical literature, [which] was both a perfect education in literary taste and a perfect education in political ambiguity."

"Her style is precise, ironic and evocative," Smiley writes:

The superb precision of Kincaid's style makes it a paradigm of how to avoid lots of novelistic pitfalls. By staying very close to her protagonist, always moving the argument and the narrative forward, choosing concrete incidents and examples to portray, having a goal but not anticipating it, and knowing her subject in such depth that every episode seems to distil many other episodes that have to go undepicted, Kincaid never allows the reader to either wish for something more or to wish for something less.
Click here to read the entire article.

Click here to read a 1995 interview with Kincaid in Salon.

Click here to listen to a 1991 conversation Kincaid had with Don Swaim of CBS Radio about life, writing and family.

--Marshal Zeringue