Category: Guyana

Wilson Harris: Resurrection at Sorrow Hill


The latest addition to my website is Wilson HarrisResurrection at Sorrow Hill. This is another hard slog, though Harris takes up many of the both the themes and locations he has taken up in his earlier work. We are in the Guyanese jungle, at the confluence of three rivers, above which sits Sorrow Hill, which we have already seen in The Palace of the Peacock. We start with a group of imaginatively named characters – Tiresias, who is the narrator at this point, her grandson, Dr Daemon, whose pregnant wife, Ruth has recently drowned when a riverboat capsized, Hope, who will narrate much of the rest of the book, who is eighty-seven and having an affair with Butterfly, and Christopher De’Ath, clock repairer and husband of Butterfly. De’Ath, of course, kills both Hope and Butterfly but either they are both dead and alive, as we see, but also they do die and resurrect seven years later, after De’Ath has served his prison sentence. (This is the second book this week I have read this week, where a character is shot dead and comes back to life. My random reading often throws up odd coincidences like this.) After resurrecting, Hope is admitted to Dr. Daemon’s Asylum for the Greats, a former prison where De’Ath served his prison sentence, where various inmates channel famous people from the past – Monty channels Montezuma, Len Leonardo da Vinci, Mark Karl Marx and Archie an archangel. The role of myth and history, and the Guyanese jungle as a metaphor for a journey to hell, as well as the borderline between sanity and insanity all play a role in this book but, as always, with Harris, it is hard work.

Wilson Harris: Heartland


The latest addition to my website is Wilson HarrisHeartland. This book is a follow-up to the Guyana Quartet, with three of the characters from the Quartet – Da Silva, Kaiser and Mariella – appearing in this book. Zechariah Stevenson Jr’s father, also called Zechariah, had a successful mining company, which went bankrupt when its Brazilian accountant, Camacho, fled with a large sum of money. As Stevenson Jr had been having an affair with Camacho’s wife, who also disappeared, he is somewhat implicated, but avoids any repercussions, when his father’s body is found in the river, an apparent suicide. Stevenson Jr claims that he is innocent as regards the fraud. He is now working as a watchman for a wood grant by the Kamaria Falls. When his boat disappears – accident or stolen? – and the food left by Kaiser (responsible for supplying the men working in the area) for Da Silva disappears, Stevenson sets out to the falls to find Kaiser. However, he doesn’t find Kaiser but he does find Da Silva’s body and a pregnant Amerindian woman, whom he assists while she gives birth (and then disappears). What Harris, is concerned with, as usual, is the power and mystery of the jungle and its inhabitants as well as, in this case, Stevenson’s guilt over his father’s death and the fraud. This is only a short book but Harris carries on successfully where he left off in the Guyana Quartet.

Wilson Harris: Black Marsden


The latest addition to my website is Wilson HarrisBlack Marsden. This is another enigmatic novel from Harris which I cannot claim to have fully understood or to have enjoyed. It concerns a man called Clive Goodrich, who is rich, having won the football pools, and who has bought a house in Edinburgh with the proceeds of his winnings. He meets a strange man called Dr Black Marsden (doctor of the soul, as Marsden describes himself) and invites Marsden and his troupe of strange people to stay with them. They are nominally going to put on a performance of Salomé at the Edinburgh Festival, with a chaste Salomé, but they seem to have another role, that of performing in Goodrich’s own tabula rasa drama. Goodrich wanders around Edinburgh, old and new, visits (perhaps in his mind) the town where he was born, called Namless, with one of Marsden’s troupe called Knife, who seems to be variously black, white and brown and tries to fathom out who or what he is. I am not sure that we ever do.

Wilson Harris: The Eye of the Scarecrow


The latest addition to my website is Wilson HarrisThe Eye of the Scarecrow. This is another strange novel from Harris, about a trip into the Guyanese jungle to find a lost city. As with his other works, plot very much takes second place to imagery and we get, once again, some wonderful images, including dreams, ghost-like appearance and the images of the jungle. The narrator is currently (1964) living in the United Kingdom but is writing about his boyhood in then British Guiana in the 1920s and about 1948, the year of the big strike. He has a friend K., an engineer, who lost his parents while young. K. leads an expedition into the jungle to find a lost city, Raven’s Head, which some developers are eager to develop. They rely on a larger than life woman, Hebra, to help them and they quarrel over her. It is not clear what happens but it seems that Hebra is killed and the narrator, as happened to both his father and step-father, is injured in the jungle and nearly dies. Looking back from 1964, while writing to K., he can only conclude, as we must, that it is not clear what happened and that it is language that that is both the aid and the stumbling block.

Wilson Harris: The Guyana Quartet


The latest addition to my website is Wilson HarrisThe Guyana Quartet. This consists of four relatively short novels, all set in the Guyana jungle, and it is generally considered Harris’ masterpiece. The first novel, Palace of the Peacock, is, in my view the best and tells of the journey of a motley crew of men, working for a hard and cruel man called Donne. Donne’s native workforce has run away because of his cruelty and Donne and his men set off to get them, on a journey that it is not too dissimilar to Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God. The story is narrated by Donne’s unnamed brother, who lives in something of a dream world. The further away the crew get from civilisation, the stranger they and the environment becomes

The second book, The Far Journey of Oudin, starts with the dead Oudin wondering why he is dead and then tells us of events up to his death. He had worked for the devious Ram, who had hired him out to Mohammed, a man who, with his brothers, had conspired against his father and his half-brother, to gain their father’s inheritance but had to pay a bitter price for it. In the second half of the book, Oudin will meet Beti and will half-abduct her. The pair will set out on a mythical journey through the wilderness.

The third book, The Whole Armour, is a simpler novel. Magda, the best whore in the area, asks one of her clients Abram, to shelter her son Cristo, who has killed a man and is wanted by the police. When Abram disappear, Magda fears the worst, but it seems he has been killed by a tiger. When Magda and Cristo find the body, Magda persuades Cristo to take Abram’s clothes and then reports Criato as dead. In the second half of the book, Sharon, the woman whom Cristo and his victim had fought, is now with Mattias but he is killed by Peet, her father, and Sharon, on learning that Cristo is alive, gets back with him. However, the police are onto him.

The final book, The Secret Ladder, is the most straightforward, but only in comparison to the other three. Russell Fenwick is a surveyor and is surveying the area by the Canje region, with a view to improving the water flow in the area, as the water is becoming brackish. However, what he and his crew are doing, is likely to flood the land, to the detriment of the locals, most of whom are descendants of escaped slaves, who look to Old Poseidon as a leader. Fenwick has to deal with a crew who do not always behave and who argue with one another, as well as Poseidon and his farmers, who start sabotaging the surveying activities.

While the earlier books are clearly superior, though perhaps less straightforward, relying extensively on metaphor and poetic image, the whole quartet is a fine work and deserves to be better known. Harris gives us a wonderful picture of the Guyana jungle and the often strange people who live in and around it and the account of their lives and struggles is a superb piece of writing. It is in print in the UK and US.

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