- Patrick Chamoiseau. A Critical Introduction by Wendy Knepper
Patrick Chamoiseau’s work has been the subject of five previous monographs. Of all five, this is perhaps the most inclusive study of his writing, methodically tracing Chamoiseau’s progression from his earliest through to his most recent texts; embracing drama, screenplays, film, theory, autobiography, and fiction; and, on the way, attending to a number of his less-studied texts (e.g., Maman Dlo contre la fée Carabosse, Au temps de l’antan, A Bout d’enfance, and a range of works for children).
The introduction sketches the writer’s evolution and reception and draws usefully and meticulously on hard-to-access Martinican resources. Similarly, in the second chapter, “Insurgent Performance Works,” valuable material about early plays and their performance in Martinique is unearthed. The next three chapters cover more familiar territory. Chapter three examines Solibo Magnifique and Chronique des sept misères, chapter four deals with the Eloge de la créolité, Lettres créoles, and Texaco, and chapter five with Chamoiseau’s autobiographical works. Knepper’s readings are generally sensitive and well-grounded. Particularly acute are her comments on the pace of Chronique slowing down to prepare for its tragic conclusion (69), her analysis of a critique of nostalgia being embedded in this highly nostalgic novel (73), and her observations on the role of the messianic figure and of twins in Texaco (111). Indeed some of these points could have been further developed and teased out. At other times, for this reader at least, the close reading was more tenuous—the association between chaux and chaud in Texaco is over-stated (123), as is the notion that the scraping of burnt confectionary has racial connotations in Chemin-d’école (136), or that the making of bread becomes a metaphor for “the production of selfhood” in the same text (Ibid.).
Chapter six offers an original reading of Ecrire en pays dominé via the figure of the Warrior of the Imaginary and the pierre-monde. This essay is often invoked by critics, but such a detailed analysis of the text, on its own terms rather than as a way into other Chamoiseau writings, is unusual. Chapter seven, “Visual Texts and the Revolutionary Epic,” gives a valuable flavor of the films on which Chamoiseau has worked. This is the chapter in which Knepper allows herself the most critical distance from Chamoiseau. She rightly acknowledges that the oneiric qualities of his screenplays can lead to a “somewhat plodding cinematic experience” (187) and that the collaborations with Guy Deslauriers at times risk perpetuating “a colonial and/or doudouiste vision” (Ibid.). This chapter also includes an illuminating reading of the role of Vodou in Biblique des derniers gestes. A final chapter on “Activism and Tales of Initiation” brings the reader right up to date with Chamoiseau’s work, analyzing a number of recent political pamphlets as well as novels such as Un Dimanche au cachot (2007) and Les Neuf consciences du Malfini (2009).
Knepper’s democratic approach, in which texts are given if not equal then at least comparable status and space, allows for a holistic and comprehensive treatment of this major writer. If the study lacks the theoretical or thematic focus of much previous writing on Chamoiseau—and therefore, at times, the critical distance from the author—it is a sympathetic, informative, and scrupulously [End Page 204] researched introduction. It is for this reason that it is perfectly placed to appeal to undergraduates, but should be of interest to all researchers working on Caribbean writing. Despite a disappointingly high number of typos and errors, especially— but by no means exclusively—in the French quotations, this is moreover a stylish and beautifully presented book.