Despite what you might think, I didn’t read this book because my former last name is White or because I happen to own a mint green beach cruiser. When I was in college, I took a course on Caribbean writers and fell deeply in love with the rhythmic style and vibrance of writers like Earl Lovelace. (You must read “Salt.”) Picking up Monique Roffey’s book was like sharing a slow dance with an old flame, and I enjoyed every second of it.
Wow, that feels good to say. I think I have finally emerged from a series of duds! “Green Bicycle” is a story about a British man, George Harwood, who moves his French wife, Sabine, to Trinidad. Harwood pursues a government career, promising Sabine that soon they will return home. But the couple never returns to England because George is madly in love with the island, its people, its land, its culture. And despite Sabine’s insistence that she hates the place and George for holding her there, the reader comes to see that Sabine simply sees the island as it is—all of its beauties and all of its faults—and she loves it anyway.
What I loved most about “Green Bicycle” is the rich imagery. The metaphor of mother is strongly at work in the novel—from the hill behind Sabine’s house shaped like a woman whom Sabine converses with, a hill who symbolizes Trinidad, to the statue of Mary that a choir boy plants on the dashboard of George’s truck. I love the dichotomy of playful and agonizing in which Roffey explores this metaphor. Through the eyes of George and then Sabine, we see the island of Trinidad grow up, a child who moves through infancy, into the terrible teens as it struggles for independence from the British, to its shaky adulthood.
The story is first told from present to past by George. In the second half of the novel, Sabine picks up the story from present to future. I have to say the structure of this book kept me up at night. I could not make sense of it. But I think I get it now. Romantic love is caught up with the way something felt at first sight and tries repeatedly to recapture that fleeting feeling. Real love always looks to the future and must see the reality of a situation to make that future a possibility. And that’s what you get at the end of the novel. A story of a couple deeply in love, but whose loves are much different, both for each other and the island they inhabit.
Which love is truer? Only the reader can say.
So, put down that pina colada and grab this book before summer’s over. It will transport you, inspire you, make you uncomfortable and teach you a little bit about the politics of the Caribbean.