Review – The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey

As Meera Syal once aptly put it, “Life isn’t all ha ha hee hee” and so, I should not expect all my  reading experiences to wow me so I have to accept that this perfectly good novel just doesn’t hit the spot for me.

The novel covers 50 years in post-war Trinidad and focuses on the relationship between Sabine and George Harwood, who have very different experiences of expat life.  The structure of the story is  unusual in that we have the denouement at the start of the novel which focuses on the events of 2006 and subsequent sections deal with earlier events in 1956, 1963 and 1970 which have shaped the future lives of Trinidadians.   

So, we are less concerned with plot but more with the characters of Sabine and George, neither of whom are particularly likeable.  Sabine has a love-hate relationship with the island which often seems a rival for George’s affections.  George comes across as a tin pot general who couldn’t succeed in England  and subsequently thought he’d set his cap at making his fortune in the colonies.  How then do they cope when the political landscape changes dramatically? 

I think this novel had a lot of promise but it just didn’t engage me.  A novel doesn’t have to have likeable characters in order to impress me but I just found Sabine and George very dull and uninteresting and their trials and tribulations were just not enough to sustain 437 pages.  Some of the writing is beautifully lyrical and those passages describing Trinidad as a living breathing creature particularly stood out for me.  I got a real feel for the island and its people and felt fully drawn into this exotic world but the only flies in the ointment were Sabine and George who literally missed the boat!  Maybe I am a closet rebel and wanted to oust them as one of the carnival masqueraders expresses to Sabine,

“Eh, you like it here in Trinidad? Well, Miss, lemme tell yuh somptin: yuh days numbered.  Go back to where you came from.  De Doc go put allyuh on a boat.  Send you home pack up head to foot, pack you tight in chains.  And if you doh like it he go pitch you overboard.”

Of course, the promise of a new hopeful era falls flat and we see Trinidad sunk in corruption with the omnipresent blimp observing it all like an all-seeing eye.  Sabine, to give her some credit, does try to gain some understanding of the Trinis and their aspirations and at least she has some more insight than George as she understands that they can never properly “belong”.

I enjoyed getting to know more about the history and culture of Trinidad but could have done with less George and Sabine and less pages.

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10 Comments

  1. Iris says:

    It sounds like I’d have the exact same reaction: I’d love to read this book and find out more about TRinidad’s history. I’m not so sure if 400 & some pages would do the trick for me though.

  2. admin says:

    Well, it’s a very readable book, Iris but it took me a while as the characters were so self-obsessed, I had to have frequent breaks from them! I can’t think of any other novels based in Trinidad which would be good reads but if I hear of any, I’ll let you know as the move from colonisation to independence was fascinating even if it was interrupted by George and Sabine. ;-)

  3. Stujallen says:

    I may get this the history appeals to me ,all the best stu

  4. Stujallen says:

    may get this ,the history and setting appeal to me ,all the best stu

  5. This is the second review in a row that’s not raving about the book. I still want to read it, but I doubt I’ll be rushing out to buy it now. And I generally have a problem with uninteresting and dull characters, so I’ll take your word for it and will bump another novel instead. :)

  6. I agree – this book was far too long! There were some beautiful descriptions of Trinidad, but now you mention it I can see that the characters were a bit dull. I never felt as though I really connected with them. Such a shame as it had such an interesting premise.

  7. FleurFisher says:

    Now I loved this book. George I was not interested in at all, but I was taken by Sabine. Yes, she was selfish but I could see what made her that way and I was intrigued by her responses. But I can see that this is probably one of those books that either clicks or doesn’t.

  8. admin says:

    Thank you for commenting, Fleur. I think it is one of those “marmite” books which either works for the reader or not – a bit like Blueeyedboy by Joanne Harris which I loved but which has left others cold. I didn’t like the protagonist of Blueeyedboy either but I found him interesting – I guess it’s like folk we meet in real life, some you click with others not. :-)

  9. admin says:

    I still think it’s a good book but just not for me – I’ve just been spoiled recently with a lot of books which touched a chord with me.

  10. Nymeth says:

    Yours is not the first lukewarm review of this one that I see. But the cultural setting really appeals to me, so I’m intrigued.

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