Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson

I first heard of Nalo Hopkinson in the acknowledgments to Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys, my favorite of his novels, upon its publication. He had a couple of  characters who spoke in a Carribean dialect and credited her with showing him where he was going wrong and offering suggestions. After reading Midnight Robber last week, I’m angry at myself for waiting fifteen years to pick up one of her books.

I love trickster stories, Anansi stories included. Hopkinson ]sprinkles the novel with tales specifically framed as Anansi stories. Who the narrator is, and to whom the stories are being told is only revealed in the final pages, but the book has a very tricky narrative structure. It’s a science fiction book, masquerading as a trickster tale style fantasy, built on the backbone of a coming of age story about a girl dealing with some serious trauma. The narrator moves between tales of the Robber Queen, a variation of a traditional Robber King carnival trickster storyteller character, and the story of the coming age of a young woman named Tan-Tan. It’s a great examination of the ways myths form from mundane experience, except that in this case the mundane part is also fantastical. And for all that thematic weight and all the functions that the story does, it just works on a story level.

One of the reasons the book is capable of carrying that weight and one of the pleasures of the book is the narrative voice. It is told in what the novel calls Anglo-Patios leaning enough toward the Anglo side of that dialect that it can be easily understood after a few pages. It’s funny and angry. It’s a remarkably good style of prose.

It begins on Touissant, a planet that has been colonized largely by descendants of the residents of the Carribean. It is a surveillance state of sorts. The surveillance is conducted by an AI called Granny Nanny. Supposedly that surveillance is only put in the hands of the government when the public good is in danger. People have implants that give them access to the Web in the form of an eshu, or a personalized assistant they see in their eyes. Of course there are people who live outside of Granny Nanny’s surveillance, or at least try to. This is a great setting for a novel in itself, but the novel quickly moves to New Halfway Tree, an alternate dimension version of Touissant that is technologically centuries behind. It is a prison planet of sorts, and the prisoners exiled there share the world with the doen, which are bat/bird like people. Tan-Tan’s father, a county mayor, commits a crime and escapes to New Halfway Tree, taking her with him. There Tan-Tan is abused as a child and becomes obsessed with the Robber King, who is a trickster and prince of stories.

To go into further detail about the plot would spoil things. This is a book that needs to be experienced. As I’ve already said the prose and structure of the book are excellent. The characters are well developed and deal with the reality of their situation in believable ways given the fantastical nature of the setting. It’s thematically rich and light on its feet. The novel has really stuck with me this past week as I keep thinking of little details and coming to realizations about it. It is a book I intend to read again. I have a copy of The Salt Roads that will likely be the next of hers I read, but if this is any indication I may have to read them all.

Canon Worthy.

Owned But Previously Unready 2020 20/75

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