I hope you are all safe and well. I cannot believe it is the last day of January today. I guess we are all continuously adapting to whatever the new normal is. As promised in my previous post, I want to share with you today the book I chose to read for my reading challenge this year. (For more information on my reading challenge, please click here. Here you will find the focus for each month and of course, you are more than welcome to join! The theme for January was: January – Read a book that is set anywhere in the world you want to visit. Now, the opportunities are endless and after near enough a year where we haven’t really been able to go anywhere, this decision was quite overwhelming. So, I picked Mauritius – what’s not to love? Sun, sand, glorious beaches…or so I thought. My book choice was set in Mauritius but I didn’t get the gloriousness I expected. My choice was: Mutiny by Lindsey Collen. This provided me with a nightmare version of my beach scene to be fair. Great book though! Here goes!
What’s it all about?
First of all, this is probably the hardest book to review because when I finished it, it left me with more questions than answers. Anyway, it’s set at the turn of the millennium in an all female prison, the back drop is a time of turmoil for the country with high levels of corruption with regard to the government and police. Not exactly a holiday story… What have I got myself into? Regardless, our heroine is Juna who has been imprisoned following a fabricated allegation – politically motivated. She provides the narration for the story and we learn about the women in the same position as her. Her two cell mates, Leila and Mama Gracienne tell each other their stories as their stomachs growl with hunger. Whilst we don’t see much of Mauritius outside of the prison, we feel the ever increasing presence of the cyclone that is heading straight for them. Despite not seeing the beaches, we do see varied and extensive descriptions of the local cuisine. To combat their hunger, the ladies ration out tales of their favourite foods and how best to cook them.
“How often can I talk about food then?” She is so rude. “Only rarely. Accept?” “Aubergine… Aubergine and potato smothered. I’d do anything for some, even the smallest little bowl of it.”
Word reaches them that they need to prepare to lead a mutiny, an uprising not just against the oppression of their gaolers, the Blue Ladies, but part of a wider revolt against the power of the corrupt government. The story flicks between a tight focus on the minutiae of their day: reciting the recipes, looking out the window whilst standing on each others shoulders. The utter tedium of being locked up away from the rest of the world then shifts to a focus towards the sight of rebellion and danger linked to the approaching cyclone. The eye of the cyclone is the time appointed to mutiny. Juna goes to great lengths to record a diary using hoarded scraps of paper/tissue, illegal and prohibited materials. These materials and the pencils she needs are expensive items in prison currency and she has to pay using her precious allocation of bananas. Every prisoner is entitled to two bananas a day – a privilege hard won by a previous prison generation.
‘And I’ve got my stub of pencil and a few sheets of paper. Yellowed and mustard smelling. I tried to smell where is has been. Forgotten in a bonded warehouse? Stolen by a storekeeper, sold to a dhall-puri vendor, turned up in prison, in exchange for.’
As the story unfolds we gain an insight into the past lives of each of the ladies. At first all talk of the past or the future is forbidden. Far too dangerous to get lost in the injustices that landed them there in the first place or the hope that one day they might leave. Their stories are the things that unite them as they each have their own. Juna, imprisoned for an Allegation, is a computer expert. She works with electronics and programming languages and is constantly trying to create a system, a code, that makes sense of prison life. Leila lands herself there after the Effusion of Blood from a policeman. She comes across as young, childish and her actions scream out for attention from someone. But she puts aside her self obsessions and becomes one of them – part of the mutiny. Mama Gracienne is consumed with guilt. She blamed herself for the death of her daughter. This was the character that pulled at me the most, I genuinely felt for her despite the challenging circumstances. The reference to her being the Confessor possibly adds to that feeling being created.
“We have come to arrest you, I am afraid.” “Me? What for?” “Oh, it’s just an allegation.” “What do you mean just an allegation? Where’s your warrant? You come here shouting someone else’s name, and now you say you are going to arrest me?”
Messages are passed in and out of the prison right under the noses of the ever watchful Blue Ladies. Plans are made and Juna works out how to disable the electronic systems in the prison when the time comes to mutiny. Carefully, word is passed throughout the prison population that the time to strike for freedom will be in the eye of the cyclone. The Blue Ladies can smell the scent of rebellion and defiance. They attempt to provoke a response so they have an excuse to lock the prison down. Will they all stand together, this disparate group of women all imprisoned for different causes? Some violent, aggressive, selfish, spiteful criminals.
“Only one banana each!” ‘We all start to mill around ever so slightly, to wander and be furious…Rein it in. Hold it in. Wait until the eye…The big woman at the front of the queue casts a long look along the line…She puts her hands out and reaches for one banana. There will be a mutiny.’
Whilst this book didn’t give me beach vibes, it did make me value the power of women – a group all down on their luck, some of which is their own fault, making the best out of a bad situation. I wasn’t really sure what I felt at the end of this book – mostly confused, somewhat conflicted too. It shows us that these picture perfect places also have the failings of the rest of the world too. Based on a true story, the mutiny is a foreshadowing of real life events. I’d definitely read more by Collen – she truly has a unique style but I literally don’t have the words to explain it. It’s one of those you will have to read for yourself (and then try and explain with me!) What this has done though is given me an opportunity to read something I would never even have heard of or picked up and for that I am truly grateful.
February brings a new theme: Read a book by an author who was born in this month. Once again, research has made the decision quite overwhelmingly near impossible. But let’s see what the month brings. If you’ve any ideas, do let me know!
Until next time, my dears.
Big love xx