- The Subversion of Class and Gender Roles in the Novels of Lindsey Collen (1948-), Mauritian Social Activist and Writer
This is the first monograph to be devoted exclusively to Lindsey Collen's novels. It is therefore destined to become an indispensable resource for anyone interested in this respected writer as well as in the social, political, religious, and ethnic issues that make contemporary Mauritius an unusual democratic island nation of over 1.2 million multilingual inhabitants. This multilingualism is a vital component of Collen's creativity. Unfortunately, Felicity Hand seems either unwilling or unable to give full attention to questions of translation in a book that remains far too focused on English to do justice to the creolized life-world of the Indian Ocean and to Collen's representations of that world.
An award-winning South African-born writer, Lindsey Collen has lived and worked in Mauritius since 1974, and been active in local politics. Her novels engage with a range of local issues that have earned her the right to be called a "Mauritian" artist. Like the Bombay-born poet Shakuntala Hawoldar who settled in Mauritius in 1968, writes in English, is an educator, and considers herself fully Mauritian, Collen draws inspiration from the histories, cultures, languages, and environments of the island that have nourished her creativity for more than four decades. But because readership for English-language writing is extremely limited, one cannot talk of an anglophone postcolonial literary field, nor of a "competition" (27) among different linguistic fields, as Hand, drawing from Peter Hawkins, tries to suggest in chapter one. In Mauritius, there is mutual cross-fertilization among these fields.
Mauritian literature is over two hundred years old. It is a primarily francophone but also truly multilingual tradition with its own themes, issues, and premises that every new generation engages with more or less explicitly. A long tradition of literary salons or workshops provides creative ferment and a strong context for dialogue. Writers read each other's work and an attentive reader will find in Collen's anglophone novels echoes of francophone and creolophone authors, as well as intertextual references to British literature, Indian epics, and Creole folk-tales. Collen is read by, and has inspired, contemporary francophone Mauritian [End Page 145] authors. A complete and thorough engagement with her novels ought thus to take a comparative perspective, for it is precisely in this dialogue that contemporary Mauritian literature emerges as a unique "field."
Hand has done a vast amount of valuable research. She puts to good use anthropological and political material. Her readings of the ideological and aesthetic characteristics of Collen's novels are often subtle, thorough, and fully critical when necessary. The analyses are balanced, and some of the conclusions judicious. But chapter six, for example, on the 2005 novel Boy, is problematic because it never fully engages with Collen's ability to shift registers: Boy is her own translation of her 1996 Misyon Garson, which is the first novel ever published in Kreol Morisien.