Strengths: Beautiful descriptions – now I feel that I have experienced something of Mauritius
Weaknesses: None that I can think of!
Why I read it: Bloomsbury kindly sent this to me to read and review – thank you!
Rating: 8 out of 10
The Prisoner of Paradise is a unique book and I’m eager to tell you why! Firstly, it allowed me to experience a place I’ve never seen in real life, nor read as a setting in a book – Mauritius. Now that I’ve read this book, I’m eager to know a lot more about this country and culture. Lucy, one of the main characters in this novel by Romesh Gunesekera, instantly falls in love with the island. She describes the light as ‘dazzling’ and the water ‘sparkling’. It sounds like a tropical paradise, especially with the heady descriptions of the gardens that surround her aunt and uncle’s property. Gunesekera’s description of the beauty of the flowers and fruits is perfect. I could almost smell the flowers and nearly licked the page to get some of that guava juice!
While Gunesekera describes this beautiful world in intricate detail, he doesn’t shy away from controversial topics either. Beneath Lucy’s initial fascination with Mauritius (so starkly different to grey, rainy England), lies an increasing murmur of resentment and trouble. The story is set in 1825, when people were kept as slaves and foreign convicts brought in to work. Lucy is appalled at some of the behaviours of the ‘masters’ with what they deem to be their ‘property’ (other human beings) and tries to question why this is happening. Lucy is quite a modern girl, not backward in expressing her ideas (such as questioning why she needs to marry). It is this spark that draws Dom Lambodar, a translator from Ceylon, to her. Although things are prickly between them at first, events keep bringing them together…
Despite my last sentence, please do not be fooled that this is a straight forward romance. It most certainly is not. Gunesekera expertly weaves issues that cause the reader to ponder in between tea parties, illicit dealings and spirited exchanges. You might think at times that this is a ‘light’ read, but Gunesekera is an expert at making history not only readable, but exciting. The ending is incredible and was certainly not something I expected. I commend Gunesekera on the strength of the ending – I felt that despite everything that happened, the ending felt true and not fanciful. It was ‘just right’ for the characters.
Do I have any criticisms of this book? I would have liked to see more of Muru, one of Lucy’s servants, who was a very sweet and likeable character. I enjoyed reading about both Lucy and Don’s reactions to the island, which were in contrast to each other, and helped me to see the different views of the various politics. Perhaps the book was a little slow initially, but I think that it helps the reader adjust to the beautiful, quieter setting.