Seduce by Désirée Reynolds

Publisher and release date: Peepal Tree Press (2013)

Seduce is the debut novel by Désirée Reynolds. It follows the life of Seduce through the eyes of multiple characters who have their own, critical interpretations of her life. The book is a raw look into life in the Caribbean before much of its independence and is driven by superstition, desperation and carnal desires.

The opening of the novel is one of its most enjoyable moments. Told in the patois of the fictional Church Island, it introduces the reader to the character Hyacinth, a stern Christian who finds it easy to look down on anyone who doesn’t behave in accordance with the church. In particular, she despises Seduce and sees her death as confirmation of the Lord’s powers and has come to her funeral to “mek sure di ole bitch is dead.” These few pages echo what follows for much of the book where strongly distinctive characters with big personalities speak on their relationship with Seduce. For instance, Glory, Seduce’s daughter, provides a wholly different perspective throughout the novel and is home to much of the novel’s painfully tender moments, Pastor Collins offers a balanced and logical take on events, while Mikey, Seduce’s lover, gives accounts that are torn and conflicted but also passionate. When we get to the titular character, it becomes clear why the other characters have responded to her in the way they have and in turn created the overall story, which goes on to include anecdotes from several more characters, including the Marshall, one of Seduce’s lovers, her friends, the Lampis, and her spiritually driven granddaughter, Loo.

Seduce’s life causes characters to analyse their own beliefs, history and the actions and thoughts of others. Pastor Collins wishes that the people on the rock would progress. His education and status is an obvious explanation for his more balanced demeanour, but when put in contrast to the Marshall, who is also of high status, but who has prejudices and looks down on the people of the rock, it expresses one of the book’s strongest messages, which is that the possession of higher status doesn’t necessarily mean better. Love is another strong theme that takes different shapes in the book, such as in the case of the Lampis, who possess a kind of love that isn’t easily seen on the surface but is shown strongly by their actions during the funeral.

As the novel grows, the reader learns, mostly through retrospect, that multiple men in the story have slept with Seduce and that there is a fight to resist white oppressors who still have influence on Church Island. More character secrets are revealed and historical accounts foreshadow events that occur in the book until it reaches an inevitable, character exposing conclusion. Seduce herself has a world awareness and uncanny pragmatism, which makes sense given her life was hard and with few options outside of gathering fish and prostitution. By the end of the book, the reader realises that Seduce was always aware of what everyone thought of her, and, despite being deeply flawed herself, her personal insight shows the rigidness of many of the other characters who fail to fully empathise with Seduce’s struggle and saddening existence.

Reynolds’ writing style is heavily influenced by character, and the world she has created is made even realer by the characters articulating themselves in accordance to how well educated they are. It makes the environment and the experiences the characters go through, in particular the Lampis and Seduce’s children, feel truly upsetting, sickening and humorous. This creates a humbling effect, and a few times while reading I stopped to think about how difficult life is for the characters and was made to put modern struggles into perspective. There are a lot of characters in Seduce, and smaller ones pop up in separate character episodes. This can make Seduce difficult to follow as the story also isn’t told in linear fashion, and a lot of time is spent on characters speaking on past events, but there is a character list at the start that makes reading the novel a little easier.

Seduce is a successfully written book on the complexities of people. The characters are hindered by superstitions, petty disagreements, jealousy, discrimination, politics and familial ties, and after completing the novel there’s an uncomfortable realisation that all of the challenges the characters face still exist today. Seduce is successful because of this, and Reynolds’ novel helps us see that the nature of people haven’t changed, only the conditions.

  • Buy the book: Peepal Tree Press
  • Favourite quote: “D’you believe in God?” “Yes.” So me seh. Yes me believe dat him is a sonofabitch and when me catch him, me goin twist off his beard.

Désirée Reynolds | WebsiteTwitter

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