Jamaica Observer Review for Seduce

A Journey to Self

Seduce by Desiree Reynolds

Reviewed by: Ann-Margaret Lim

In Seduce, Desiree Reynolds, very much like Dennis Scott in An Echo in the Bone, takes the reader back to their past to explain the present. Like Scott, too, Reynolds has chosen death and someone’s transitioning period when it is believed they have not fully passed on to the other side. In other words, the nine-night or vigil, as the present time in which the story unfolds, whilst going back into history, the “bone”, to tell the full story of the main character, who in fact, could even be interpreted as the reader.

The major differences between Seduce and An Echo in the Bone? Well, Reynolds’ main character, who is dead, is female and her name is Seduce, whilst Scott’s main character is Crew, who is also dead. Interestingly enough, even in this difference lies a similarity – the symbolism of the names. Crew represents more than one, a group of workers on a ship, perhaps. And of course, a slave ship is conjured, because of the context of the book. It could also be the crew on the great slave ship of the plantation. At the same time, Seduce conjures the seductive allure of the velvet black skin of Reynolds’ main character that has through history captivated the onlooker, who in the context of the plantation, has taken that black skin without permission.

The other major difference between Seduce and An Echo in the Bone is that the former is not a play, as is the latter.

I’m very much appreciative of Reynolds for writing this book, which I think offers readers a counterpart to the traditional male/main character in the context of our slave and colonial history. Through Seduce, Reynolds gives us the voice and story that has for the most part being noticeably absent.

Having been introduced to the character Seduce from different characters in the novel, and also herself, the reader knows she was an exotic beauty with velvet black skin who apparently mesmerised men, married or not. Even dead, Seduce seems to have a hold on the entire community.

Having seen 12 Years a Slave, one pictures the lead actress Lupita N’yongo’s or the African supermodel Alek Wek’s beautiful skin tone, each time Seduce’s bewitching black skin is mentioned, so my only ‘issue’ with Seduce is its cover. The face on the cover should believably be that of Seduce, since her name is written in white across the mouth of the half-face on the cover. Imagine the classic and beautifully striking contrast of that white word Seduce on a pure-black skin, and all the potent images it would conjure!

With that said, Seduce, the 2013, Peepal Tree-published book is nevertheless a winner, since it’s a very ambitious book that tackles the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of the present situation of displaced Africans. And it tackles this through literature. Anthropology, history, cultural studies – it’s all in the brew of this pepperpot stew Reynolds’ brilliantly active mind has mixed.

Set in Seduce’s home in a fictitious Caribbean country called Church, which is apparently still operating under colonial rule, and right after Seduce, an old lampi (prostitute) has died, her story emerges.

The story is told through various characters, including Seduce herself, which, in my opinion, lends itself to being easily transformed into a play. Fact is, I see Seduce being played on stages worldwide.

As the characters relate Seduce’s story, and consequently their stories too, Desiree Reynolds weaves an intriguing tale of displaced Africans and their relationship with their motherland. A hovering shadow in this book is Seduce’s ancestor Lucretia, who was a rebel slave ( reminiscent of Jamaicans’ magical Nanny) and who it is believed has something to with Seduce’s granddaughter’s apparent madness, since she speaks of herself as we, not I.

Mikey, Seduce’s longtime lover and father of one of her two children, goes back to the Black Isle to participate in their liberation war, only to find little comfort and sense of belonging there. And of course, the symbolism of Mikey being a Rastaman is not lost on the reader, who knows that Rastafarians have preached repatriation, with some actually resettling in Africa.

The relationship we have with ourselves and our blackness is also another important aspect that Reynolds tackles. Having seen the tribulations her black skin and poor status in life attract, Seduce, a bonafide lampi, decides that her child would be conceived with a white-looking man, to better its chances.

It was a day when me mine restless, could not quiet, and all of a sudden me realize why, as me watch him come down di gangplank, curly light-brown hair, like a halo circling him head. Me wait a long time for dis man. Mi body want a child an I want fi mek sure it get di best start. Me want di right man, an he was right, his body right, an’ his hazel eyes was right.

Glory, the child conceived from her meeting with the sailor, is perhaps physically what Seduce wanted. She is indeed fair and her hair is ‘pretty’, but Glory and her mother do not have a good relationship. Fact is, Glory sees herself as better than her mother and sees Seduce’s vigil more as an opportunity to get herself in the right crowd, having resented the alienation she thinks she’s suffered because of her mother’s profession.

So as not to give away the twists in the story, I’ll leave it at this: Glory is indeed not the white sheep her skin may lead some to think she is, but she’s not evil either, just mainly conflicted within herself as many displaced Africans and Creole children of the plantation are.

So, as the reader looks at the mother/daughter relationship through Seduce and Glory, he must also examine the relationship he has with himself. And herein lies another beauty of Reynolds’ book – each of the main characters is struggling with aspects of themselves. For Mikey, it is coming to grips with loving a woman more than she loves him back, and also finding that going back to Africa still hasn’t fulfilled hm. For Marshall, the town’s main policeman, it is trying to understand why he, too, has loved Seduce and why, though he is almost white, he is still drawn to the black. All of the major characters grapple with coming to grips with some reality or truth affecting their lives, which is somehow intermingled with Seduce’s life.

Indeed, Seduce is a book about relationships — mainland/colony; parent/child; brother/sister; community/individual; spiritual/physical and, looming very largely, the male/female relationship.

In Church, many Caribbean readers will see their own islands — the struggles with skin colour, race, religion and African retention, the appeal and repulsion of the Empire and the juicy secrets that islands like ours always seem to have.

For my money, Seduce is a contemporary Caribbean masterpiece and Reynolds is a seriously gifted writer.