Friday, July 25, 2014

Local Customs by Audrey Thomas

Cover image from the publisher, Dundurn (2014)

Like Margaret Lawrence before her, and indeed like the character Letty herself, Audrey Thomas was married to a man who set out to work in Africa, and jumped at the chance of the adventure, and presumably the rich vein of material it would bring to her writing.

Thomas visited the Cape Coast Castle while on holiday, during a long ago sojourn in Ghana. Attracted by the mystery of the real woman, she made a "mental note" for the story she wrote forty years later.

This composting time was all to the good, I think. Basing the plot on the life of Captain and Mrs. Maclean, she has produced a chilling mystery, written with real originality and style.

Many years ago on the recommendation of a friend, I read some early works of Audrey Thomas. Her short stories read like memoirs, and I found Mrs. Blood long and not very compelling.

The current novel book is clearly fiction, and as good fiction should, it raises a host of thorny social, psychological and moral questions. Also, I heard this very engaging author speak and read, along with Brian Payton (The Wind is not a River) and Kim Fu (For Today I am a Boy) at Hal Wake's Vancouver Writer's Fest Incite author series at VPL a couple of months ago.

Finding the living voice of Audrey Thomas compelling, I decided there and then to read Local Customs. A good decision. This book proved to be a clear-eyes portrayal of nineteenth century colonial attitudes, and a portrait of the imagined poet Letty, a woman ahead of her time and dead before time.

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