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.