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Loving This Man

by Althea Prince

With Loving This Man, her first novel, Althea Prince follows other West Indian-Canadian authors (Dionne Brand, Rabindranath Maharaj, Austin Clarke) in exploring the trauma of emigration. The first half of the novel is set in the Antigua of Prince’s childhood, and tells the story of three sisters whose lives, despite tribulations, are made meaningful and nourishing by the continuity of a close-knit family. The second half is narrated by one of the sisters’ daughters, Sayshelle, who has emigrated to Toronto. There Sayshelle attempts to start her own family, but, in the hostile wilderness of Toronto, the idea of family becomes absurd, a symbol not of continuity but of inauthenticity and loss.
The first half of the novel is far more successful than the second. Visions and other spiritual phenomena play an important role in the Antiguan sections, enlivening the story with an element of drama that it otherwise lacks. Prince is vague about those details of physical setting that make fiction real and rich, but the magical realist emphasis on the spirit world gives her story some depth.
That spiritual dimension is stripped away in the second half, presumably to emphasize the emptiness of life in Toronto. The physical setting continues to be vague, and, without the magic realism of the spirit world, the story lacks narrative complexity. Sayshelle’s narrative is not so much a novel as a personal essay, and it reads very much like the essays collected in Prince’s Being Black.
The narrative style – a mixture of polemic and memoir – that makes Prince’s essays provocative and politically engaging is not suited to fiction. Prince too often tells readers what happened, instead of showing them, especially in the Toronto chapters. For a story so full of potential drama – including spies, bigamy, and suicides – Loving This Man is never actually dramatic.