Nalo Hopkinson, Midnight Robber, Grand Central Publishing, 2000.
Audiobook available on Audible.
I was recently reminded that I often talk about Midnight Robber but that I still haven't reviewed it. I'm delighted to finally being able to as this scifi novel, artfully blending an intimate narrative with a thoughtful take on the power of words and fiction, and an intriguing planet, is definitely not one to be missed.
(Please note that, paradoxically, to avoid spoilers, this isn't the beginning of the novel. But feel free to skip this section if you're afraid to know too much about the story itself.)
Tan-Tan is on the run. She killed a man in New Half-Way Tree and she has become someone people whisper about in fear. It's not as if she was really part of a community anyway. She lives in the bush, with Abitefa, a douen, also called a packbird, an alien with traits close to a bird, native to the planet the humans have colonised. The both of them live in-between peoples. But Carnival is coming and at some point, Tan-Tan will have to face what she did and what she is running from.
The first very obvious striking aspect of Midnight Robber is the use of Creole. In Brown Girl in the Ring, Hopkinson was mixing Canadian English, for the narrator's voice, with Creole, for the characters' voice. But in Midnight Robber, the narrator's voice and the characters' voice are in Creole (1) which gives a depth, coming from the language itself, to the story, as it is set on a planet colonised by Caribbean people. She uses a particular cadence to it and some turn of phrases which instantly remind of a tale being told. Hopkinson creates a blend made from the vocabulary from Trinidad-and-Tobago, from Jamaica, from Guyana and she added neologisms ; the syntax also uses different constructions, including constructions from Trinidad that are inherited from French. The work on the language is truly incredibly rich.
And, of course, tales, words, are very much at the centre of the novella. Tan-Tan's story has become a story to frighten people, she's Tan-Tan, New Half-Way's Robber Queen, and people even masquerade as her. She even masquerades as herself to hide in a crowd of humans, all the way to a battle of wits and words.
But there's also the untold stories, what Tan-Tan hides and that becomes apparent as the sotory progresses. Who is the monster of the story? Is it Tan-Tan, the killer who has now become the stuff of legends? There's a whole dimension about monsters, whether they are humans or aliens or alien beasts, about being neither one thing nor the other, which makes Midnight Robber such a layered story.
But Hopkinson isn't only writing an original story, she uses myths, legends, from the Caribbean, while at the same time reproducing within her story the exact conditions in which those myths and legends emerged. Those legends are getting lost in the Caribbean and by both rewriting them and by writing them inside her own story set on another planet, Hopkinson truly works for the future.
I have particularly enjoyed the notion of this planet being entirely colonised by people from the Caribbean. Without saying anything obvious, Hopkinson makes you think about colonisation with a world upon which humans bring their customs and tales, and completely ignore the indigenous people and their culture, who even live in fear and hidden from them.
But it's not only about colonisation, it's also about slavery, about where you come from, where you're going and how you settle down between the past and the future.
And what a world! There's so much just at the edges of Tan-Tan's story and I wish Hopkinson would come back to it to develop it.
Midnight Robber is a short novel but it is extremely dense thanks to an amazing prose and the delicate touch of the writer when it comes to developing her characters and her themes. It is, without a second thought, my favourite story by Nalo Hopkinson so far and I urge you to read it to find out why she is such a rare and amazing author.
Update: This review has been updated after being first published because Ms. Hopkinson was kind enough to chat with me on Twitter and she kindly gave me so many new angles and informations. It was even difficult afterwards to keep this review short enough!
... Also, she speaks French amazingly!
The writer's website.
(1) If you start saying "Oh, it'll be so difficult to read..." I'll remind you I'm not an English native speaker and I had no problem whatsoever reading it.
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