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Mr. Potter: A Novel Hardcover – May 9, 2002
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The refrain of Jamaica Kincaid's clear-sighted, poetic novel Mr. Potter is that reading and writing are incomparable prizes: it is literacy that separates us--not without pain--from the natural world. Kincaid's title character, a chauffeur, spends his life in the bright, unchanging sun of Antigua. Each day his father fruitlessly lowers his fishing pots and his net into the waters of the surrounding ocean, finally cursing God for his bad luck. These are ordinary men, as trapped and elevated by circumstance as any of us, except that without the split in consciousness that reading gives, they cannot see any context for what happens to them. Only the writer--and in this case the narrator, Mr. Potter's grown daughter, a true lover of words--can provide context for such characters, dipping back into history, stepping close to read the men's thoughts, drawing further away to take in politics and social movements. Kincaid's looping, deceptively simple style draws on the work of female modernists like Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein to stitch together the story of Mr. Potter. After a few stiff paragraphs at the opening, the effect is spellbinding. Readers familiar with Kincaid will recognize her preoccupation with family (as seen in My Brother) and her unsentimental assertion that in a world dominated by practical concerns, blood connections matter, even if love does not always follow the bloodline. --Regina Marler
From Publishers Weekly
Kincaid follows up My Brother and Autobiography of My Mother with another unsentimental, unsparing meditation on family and the larger forces that shape an individual's world. The novel follows the life of one man, Mr. Potter, from his birth to his death (not necessarily in that order) on the Caribbean island of Antigua. Mr. Potter, a native Antiguan of African descent, works as a chauffeur for a Mideastern immigrant and then for himself. His world is full of displaced persons a client who is a Holocaust refugee, a lover from the island of Dominica but Mr. Potter gives no thought to his own displacement or the events in the wider world that have brought these people together. In fact, he doesn't think about very much besides securing creature comforts; at the book's opening, he is unreflective and unselfconscious "between him and all that he saw there was no distance of any kind." But what seems like a conventional narrative about a man's coming to consciousness becomes something quite different as the reader gradually gets to know the book's narrator, one of Mr. Potter's many illegitimate daughters, who slowly reveals her relationship to her father and whose voice comes to dominate the story. As in her previous books, Kincaid has exquisite control over her narrator's deep-seated rage, which drives the story but never overpowers it and is tempered by a clear-eyed sympathy. Her prose here is more incantatory and hypnotic than ever, with repeating phrases ("And that day, the sun was in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky, and it shone in its usual way, so harshly bright...") that can occasionally seem mannered. This, however, is a relatively rare occurrence in an otherwise taut and often spellbinding novel.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
However, by the end of the book I had to be in awe of the author. She succeeded in presenting both the despair and the wisdom of being inconsequential. She accurately presented individuals as being shaped by small details such as a line drawn through the father section of a birth certificate. She presented the similarity in displacement whether a rich Lebanonese businessman, a Vienese doctor, or an African slave. Through that similarity of displacement, she made a strong social statement about the relationship of the "have's" and the "have not's".
The story line is simple - a boy is born without his father claiming him, his mother leaves him as a servant boy while she commits suicide, he learns to drive, he becomes a chauffeur, he has many daughters - one of which is the narrator, he becomes a successful cabbie, he dies. However, through this simple story, through language that is simple and difficult simultaneously, Kincaid crafted a realistic, wise, critical depiction of humanity. I'm impressed.
"In Mr. Shoul's garage there were three cars and these cars all belonged to Mr. Shoul, but Mr. Shoul himself was not in the garage with his cars. Mr. Shoul was upstairs in his own house above the garage where the three cars were, and Mr. Shoul by then, that is by the time Mr. Potter arrived in the garage where there were the three cars, [...]"
And here is another:
"And that day, the sun was in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky, and it shone in its usual way so harshly bright, making even the shadows pale, making even the shadows seek shelter; that day the sun was in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky, but Mr. Potter did not note this, so accustomed was he to this, the sun in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky; if the sun had not been in its usual place, that would have made a great big change in Mr. Potter's day, it would have meant rain, however briefly such a thing, rain, might fall, but it would have changed Mr. Potter's day, so used was he to the sun in its usual place, way up above and in the middle of the sky."
So, if you like this sort of style, by all means do buy this book, but if you find it awkward and uninteresting as I did, be warned because the whole book is consistently written this way.