| the ledge files
the ledge - nl - uk
publisher: Querido, Amsterdam, 1985
|Annie John is a narrowly focused and intense portrayal of the inner life of an adolescent girl growing up in Antigua in the 1950s and 1960s. It begins in paradise. Annie is 10 years old. She lives an orderly and affection-filled existence with her mother and father in a small house he has built, which her mother keeps perfectly in order. Annie adores her mother and loves being in her presence, helping her with her daily tasks, dressing like her, being made to feel cherished and protected by her mother's knowledge and special rigour. The next nine chapters detail Annie's simultaneous disillusionment and quest for independence as she becomes "a young lady" (a very suspect category), a star student in a rigidly British educational system, and her mother's loved and hated antagonist. The last chapter details Annie's vivid ambivalence about her departure from the island and from her parents. She is now taller and stronger than her father, disdainful of her mother, and in a fever to leave the island, but the reader knows through the very richness of the novel that Annie can never quite leave behind the sharp combination of pleasure and pain that has been the strongest feature of her passionate childhood.
The spread of general education after the second world war swept all sorts of potential novelists, male and female, into the net, and one of the special features of the generation of novelists born in the 40s and 50s (Jamaica Kincaid was born in 1949) is its range of national and ethnic diversity. Kincaid has said she became a novelist almost by accident - after leaving Antigua to work as an au pair in New York City, she went to college for a few years and began meeting up with writers and writing herself. But her education in Antigua, based on English classical literature, was both a perfect education in literary taste and a perfect education in political ambiguity. Kincaid's only apparent subject is the evolution of Annie's emotional state as she is growing up. Her style is precise, ironic and evocative - Annie's world is full of people and places that intrigue her, draw her, or alienate her. She is full of appetites and hates to be crossed. The reader quickly has the sense that her mother's standards of doing everything according to plan have created in Annie a felt but not quite articulated aesthetic - different from her mother's but equally powerful - and that this difference in taste is added to the other, more common rivalries of mothers and adolescent daughters. Annie's maturation
| is objectively the most routine of processes, but it is so strongly felt by the child herself, and as narrator she brings such a wealth of inference to it, that it seems to be the paradigm of tragedy and epic. It does not overtly remind the reader of other deeply felt tragedies and epics as much as it resonates with similar vibrations while purporting to be nothing more than a very particular record of a very particular childhood.
In later works Kincaid expresses more specifically political ideas and emotions about Antigua, class, race, illegitimacy, colonialism, Aids, and other topics that some readers may find informative in the context of Annie John or of Kincaid as a writer who is also a representative figure of her time and place. But the genius of this particular novel is that whatever those ideas are, the author doesn't use them as any kind of explanatory reference in accounting for Annie's successive states of mind. Like most children, she exists outside of time. Her life is all of life and her world is the whole world. Her view of things recapitulates the way the world works and the way human psychology works, and subtly comments upon political and social ideas if the reader wants it to. Like The Trial, Annie John expands into larger meaning or doesn't, depending upon the reader's frame of reference. It is more likely to expand than not, but it also works on its apparent terms - a simple story of a particular girl in an out-of-the-way place.
Annie is a figure of both sympathy and empathy - even when her emotions seem inappropriate, she is so honest about them and she evokes them in such detail that the reader stays right with her. In some sense the flowering of the novel around the world in the 70s, 80s and 90s stands as the fulfilment of the potential of the novel as a social document, if not as an artistic document. Of this flowering, Annie John is an especially excellent example. The superb precision of Kincaid's style makes it a paradigm of how to avoid lots of novelistic pitfalls. By staying very close to her protagonist, always moving the argument and the narrative forward, choosing concrete incidents and examples to portray, having a goal but not anticipating it, and knowing her subject in such depth that every episode seems to distil many other episodes that have to go undepicted, Kincaid never allows the reader to either wish for something more or to wish for something less.
- Jane Smiley, The Guardian, 1 July 2006
|BOOKS BY JAMAICA KINCAID:|
Annie John is growing up on the magical island of Antigua. It should be a sojourn in paradise for her but adolescence takes the brilliant, headstrong girl into open rebellions and secret discoveries, and finally to a crisis of emotions that wrenches her away from her island home.
editor-in-chief: Stacey Knecht, email@example.com
Thanks to: De digitale pioniers and
Het Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds
Design: Maurits de Bruijn
Copyright: Pieter Steinz, Stacey Knecht
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