Friday, 16 July 2010

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver


DATE READ: July 2010

NOTES: Lacuna – an empty space or a missing piece

This is an ambitious and brilliantly constructed novel. Harrison Shepherd is the son of a Mexican mother and American father. Mother takes him off to Mexico as a young boy as she pursues various men in the hope that they will look after her. Young Harrison winds up working for flamboyant artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahla. He is part of their household when Trotsky comes to stay and the whole tragedy of revolutionary politics unfolds before him.

From the beginning Harrison instinctively writes and records all that is going on around him. But it is not until well through the book that we begin to know how his writing has reached the printed page. After his return to the United States he successfully publishes two novels – but there are darker forces lurking and he is soon caught up in the anti-communistic witch hunts of the late 1940s.

Kingsolver brilliantly evokes both the vibrant, colourful and dangerous atmosphere of Mexico and the prosperous, introverted and small-minded North Carolina. She has created some wonderful characters: the unpredictable Frida, the stalwart, loyal Violet Brown and the honest, formidable Arthur Gold. The only criticism I would make of this book is that the writer has done a vast amount of research and seems to have been reluctant to leave any of it out of the finished work……

The concept of a lacuna is well employed. Throughout the book there are empty spaces and missing parts. The significant opening scenes describe the frightening spaces in rocks under the sea; various parts of Harrison’s notebooks and diaries go missing; there is a father-sized hole in his life. Harrison Shepherd describes the people and events that surround him but gives surprisingly little away about his own real self – another lacuna?

Very impressive – highly recommended.

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