One of the books in The Readers Summer Book Club that I am really pleased I was introduced to after Gavin suggested it go on the list was ‘Redemption in Indigo’ by Karen Lord. I have to admit I hadn’t really been aware of the book and whilst I loved the sound of it being based on an old folk/fairytale (especially after the success I had with Eowyn Ivey’s ‘The Snow Child’ earlier this year) I do admit the fact it has been labelled as ‘speculative’ or ‘genre’ fiction did concern me a little. I am not a genre snob; I just occasionally worry that if things get too outlandish I might lose the thread. There is a fine line, for me, between fantastical and fantasy but I thought “in for a penny, in for a pound” and so it was chosen.
It has been said that ‘Redemption in Indigo’ is simply a retelling of an old Senegalese folk talk of a woman who married a man who couldn’t stop eating and then left him. However Karen Lord does so much more than that as whilst the premise of the novel starts out with Paama leaving her gluttenous husband Ansige the tale then goes off into a world of its own, and indeed its a world like our own yet utterly unlike it. You might be reading a newpaper in the local bar and turn and find a huge spider talking to you, you may be spied on by djombi (spirits) overtaking insects or small children to do so or you may end up being given what looks like a rather antique stick without realising it is the Chaos Stick, once owned by the Indigo Lord, which gives you magical powers. These are the things that happen to characters in ‘Redemption in Indigo’ in fact in the latter case it is really what the whole book is about.
I want to, and am indeed about to, use the cliché that this book had me rather spell bound, and I think that is all to do with the fact it is rather fantastical and magical yet also because I loved the way in which the book was written and the story told. You see the story is quite literally told to you in the form, most of us were lucky enough to have, of your parent/s telling you after they had tucked you in to bed at night. The unnamed storyteller even makes a joke of adding in ‘once upon a time’ a few paragraphs in. I found it rather beguiling and found myself lost in a mixed state of reading a book that I felt was reading itself to me, a rare and rather unusual experience which had a certain warmth to it.
In fact if you could call a book ‘warm’ then that would be exactly how I would describe ‘Redemption in Indigo’ full stop. It has the almost cosy-like warmth of the narrator, then there is the warmth of the setting of the book (I couldn’t work out if it was African or Caribbean whilst reading, I have discovered it was the latter) there is also a real warm humour throughout the book both with some of the scrapes Paama’s husband ends up in on his quest for food and with the narrator dropping in little asides as we go on further.
“I know your complaint already. You are saying, how do two grown men begin to see talking spiders after only three glasses of spice spirit? My answer to that is twofold. First, you have no idea how strong spice spirit is made in that region. Second, you have no idea how talking animals operate. Do you think they would have survived long if they regularly made themselves known?”
It is also a rather delightfully enigmatic book. As I mentioned before I couldn’t really place exactly where the book was set, in terms of continent as all the villages etc are wonderfully described. Nor, as I read on, could I quite determine the time period it was set in, one moment people are reading magazines in a busy city, the next they are going by horse and cart down dusty tracks in the middle of nowhere, oh and once the Indigo Lord turns up people travel by bubble. I also liked the elements of mini stories within the stories, it is very much a story about storytelling the more I think about it. My only slight quibble was that I wanted more, more about Paama’s sister, her life before and much more about what the Indigo Lord and the chaos stick before we meet them and maybe a little more chaos after we do. Here I should say that by more I don’t mean this book was lacking anything, I literally mean I wanted more of all the elements and more of Lord’s writing.
I’m still slightly puzzled by the labelling of ‘speculative’ or ‘genre’ fiction on ‘Redemption in Indigo’ for me it was simply a wonderfully told rather magical story, but the debate goes on and I don’t want to open that can of worms. If you like a fantastical folk/fairytale then I would heartily recommend it. I was more than happy to simply be taken along with the book, its narrator and its characters and enjoy myself with the magical moments as they came and went.
Has anyone else read Karen Lord’s debut? What did you make of it? Is it genre or literary? Does it even matter?
I read this book for The Readers Summer Book Club, if you would like to hear the author discussing the book you can on this week’s episode of The Readers Summer Book Club here.
14 responses to “Redemption in Indigo – Karen Lord”
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I read Redemption in Indigo a while ago now and I really enjoyed it 🙂 I can see what you mean about it being classed as genre fiction…I don’t think it necessarily needed to be. I think it would probably be more accessible if it wasn’t. It’s more folklore than fantasy… but for me personally, it doesn’t matter what it’s classed as. Interestingly, in my review of the book I’ve written I felt it was a bit too long….whereas you were left wanting more! So we clearly had a slightly different reaction to it! I do hope more people read it though and it is a great pick for The Readers book club!
If anyone wants to read my review the link is: http://bookmonkeyscribbles.wordpress.com/2012/03/27/redemption-in-indigo-by-karen-lord/
I think in some parts I thought it was long and others too short, I think that is because of the fact that its based on a fable and, though there are exceptions like The Snow Child, books centred around those are rather difficult to extend because of their nature maybe?
I absolutely loved the first half of this book! However, I totally lost interest after the dinner when the “traveling” began. I stopped there. I must admit that I am not a fable reader, or at least not often. I enjoy a few fables, but have decided that I do not care much for a novel being written from them. For example: I recently enjoyed a short retelling of the story of Cupid and Psyche so I read C.S. Lewis’ “Till We Have Faces.” I did finish that one, but did not enjoy it as much as the original tale. I never was a big fairy tale reader either, although I really liked “The Snow Child.” I guess I just am not sure about fables and fairy tales.
Oh that is interesting. I could see why that might happen as the pace does change somewhat after the first few hilarious sections of how her husband simply cannot stop eating, but I was hooked in by then. There is a slight different feeling from the first half to second I agree. It worked for me though.
Hi Simon, and thanks for inviting me on the podcast! You’ve already asked me whether I think Redemption in Indigo is literary or genre, so you already know I think it doesn’t matter. I’m not even sure there’s any useful distinction between the two. I tend to think it’s better to let each book be itself.
Anyway, Redemption in Indigo‘s a great book, and I hope its being on The Readers encourages more people to read it.
I hope more people have given it a whirl and I have The Readers, and here I really mean Gavin, to thank for making me read this too. I don’t think I would have come across it otherwise.
Thank you very much for coming on to the show too.
This sounds so up my street, I’ve even more upset that I didn’t manage to join in! My 15 mins of fame will have to wait 😉 (and now I’ve slipped to EIGHTH on ebuzzing’s list, Simon, what to do what to do??) 😉
Hahahaha I haven’t looked at e-buzzing in ages Simon, I stopped as loads of blogs with only a hint of books on them kept ending on the list. Sorry you couldn’t join in with the discussion, there is a whole new Readers Book Club starting though so maybe we can get you on one of those eventually.
In spite of the fact that he eats hedge-fund managers and other people, you can’t help but like Jake! (Actually on the eating bankers thing, it might be a help rather than a hindrance to liking him!!!!). He tells the retrospective parts of his werewolf existence and of some of his kills with an intriguing blend of gory detail, self-awareness, emotion and dry humour! It’s yet another master-stoke! It also allows the character to maintain a beautiful balance between doing just enough to keep going and yet being aware of much of the ills in his life and perhaps the feeling that though his end may be near, it might be what he actually wants. He’s also of course cast as the narrator and generally this works well. The only slight issue I had with this part of the character was the fact that Jake is supposedly writing what we read in a journal and it then gets referred to periodically through the novel. This felt a bit forced and unnecessary to me. (It felt a bit – “and in between doing the last twenty-six things and waiting for the next full moon – I wrote up my journal!”) Personally I’d have been happy to accept it throughout the book after reading that it was Jake’s journal at the start and without it being referred to at the end. However I can see from how the book ends that Glen Duncan might have had reasons to keep reminding us about the journal aspect but I’ll say no more as I wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone.
I think you meant this for The Last Werewolf post maybe? I was puzzled at first and then suddenly I made the connection. Thank you for your thoughts regardless.
I really enjoyed Redemption in Indigo! I wondered whether part of the genre trouble it encounters is that Jo Fletcher Books is nominally a sci-fi imprint, but this is so obviously not sci-fi that they had to go for the ‘Speculative’ catch-all?
But what did you think about the neatness of the ending and how the Indigo Lord turns out? Just as you describe it as the kind of tale you’d be told while getting tucked up in bed, I wondered whether it dodged a couple of the more difficult questions it raised – some bits were a little too conveniently wrapped up for me…
Also, I think it’s supposed to be based on a Yoruba folk tale – don’t know whether you’ve read Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi but that has a similar kind of story in it (although embedded inside a very different kind of book).
You could be right about the imprint of the publishers. They have recently sent me, ok so I might have begged and pleaded a little, another book called ‘The Silver Bough’ which I think might have the same scenario.
I didn’t think the end was that neat, I don’t want to say too much more about it in case of spoilers but the epilogue had me thinking.
I haven’t read Mr Fox but it was a book I have been really interested in trying. In fact Helen Oyeymi is an author that I very much want to get around to reading.
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