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The Orchid House Paperback – October 1, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

First published in 1954, The Orchid House, Phyllis Shand Allfrey's only published novel, is a classic of Caribbean literature. In this markedly autobiographical story of the three daughters of a once-powerful but now impoverished white family, Allfrey interweaves her family's history with the history of her home island of Dominica in the twentieth century. The novel is written in a sensuous style and the story remarkably told through the eyes of Lally, the black nurse of the three sisters. Often praised for the clearsightedness of its analysis of the Dominican historical process, The Orchid House stands at a crucial intersection of West Indian politics. It was during this period that the colonized took over from the colonizer the direction of local governments. Allfrey, a Fabian socialist and founder of Dominica's first political party, articulates in this novel the central tenet of a political philosophy that guided a lifetime of grassroots activism: that profound changes had to take place in the power structures of Caribbean societies to bring social justice to its peoples, and that those who persevered in seeking to revive the past were doomed. This edition makes this classic novel available in paperback for the first time in years.

About the Author

PHYLLIS SHAND ALLFREY, novelist and poet, was born in Dominica, where her father was Crown Attorney. Her work has often been compared to that of her compatriot and friend, Jean Rhys. The novel has been made into a film for British television.

LIZABETH PARAVISINI-GERBERT an associate professor in the Department of Hispanic Studies at Vassar College. She co-edited Green Cane and Juicy Flotsam: Short Stories by Caribbean Women (Rutgers University Press).
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press (October 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081352332X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813523323
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,560,392 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ellis Bell VINE VOICE on October 16, 2010
Format: Paperback
The Orchid House is the story of three young white women growing up in Dominica, in a house called L'Aromatique, or the Orchid House for its conservatory. The point of view is from their nurse, Lally, who took care of them when they were growing up. Stella, married to a German but living in America, is now a mother; Joan, also a mother, is a political activist; and Natalie is a wealthy widow. The girls have grown up and moved away, but one by one each returns. It's a novel in which women are the focal point of the story; each of the male main characters is weak, both physically and/or emotionally.

This is a weird one, both in tone and story. As far as plot goes, there's not much of one; it's mostly just a flurry of activity as one sister leaves and another one comes. The narrator, Lally, isn't believable; she's far more educated than I imagine someone in her position might be, and she has less of a presence in the novel than some of the male characters. She claims that she loves the three girls, but you don't really get a feel for that in this book. Of the three sisters, Joan and Stella are the more interesting, since their role in the story is much larger than Natalie's. As far as the tone goes, though, it's atmospheric and brooding, which I enjoyed; I've never been to the West Indies, but I can imagine it very clearly through this book. You get this feeling of being suspended midair while reading this novel, much as the humidity of a summer afternoon hangs in the air. There's almost a repressive feeling to the tone of this novel sometimes, which works for it in a way.

Nonetheless, this book is important in terms of its place in West Indian literature; apparently, Jean Rhys was influenced by this book in the writing of Wide Sargasso Sea. Unfortunately, I just didn't care much for The Orchid House.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By B L Farrell on May 29, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was fascinated and curious about Dominca and looked forward with great anticipation to a very engaging read that would provide a glimpse of the island and its life. However,I found the story line to be slow and less than interesting or inspiring.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By j. cierniak on May 30, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is like a favorite painting at a museum one returns to see again and again. Each reading reveals a little more about the characters and the setting and offers important insights into life (as imagined, but based on the author's experience) on an island in the Caribbean. A true treasure!
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Format: Paperback
The story of a white Creole family in 1930s Dominica - the Master is a broken man after World War I, reliant on his drug supplier, who has leeched most of the wealth out of the family. Near neighbour, Andrew, is dying of tuberculosis.
And then the three grown-up daughters return separately to visit: lovely Stella, bringing her little son from America; Joan, with her child from England, eager to continue her political activism among the poor of Dominica. And finally Natalie, a rich widow.
Narrated by Lally, the old black nurse - herself ill - who has been re-employed to care for the children, this book promised great things. I found Lally a strong character, and the sense of the humidity and abundance of the island gave it a real sense of place. However I found all the daughters rather silly and unbelievable, and really couldn't care about any of them.
The quote on the back cover from the Sunday Times, that it is 'Reminiscent of The Wide Sargasso Sea' was to my mind a great exaggeration; apart from being set in the same country, Jean Rhys' work is far superior.
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0 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Book Worm on January 7, 2008
Format: Paperback
The book is in really good condition and was received promptly. I'd buy again from this source.
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