Quill and Quire

REVIEWS

« Back to
Book Reviews

Soucouyant

by David Chariandy

Vancouverite David Chariandy’s debut novel works in spite of itself. None of the characters are particularly striking, the narrative is a bit choppy, and the ending feels tied up with a bow. And yet, Soucouyant is a highly readable and interesting book.

We never learn the name of the story’s narrator, which is fitting, as it is his mother, Adele, who is the focus of the novel. Adele has suffered from early-onset dementia for most of her son’s life. Unable to deal with her worsening physical and mental condition, the son leaves, only to return to his Toronto-area home two years later, hoping to discover the endings of his mother’s half-told stories before her memory completely disintegrates. Primarily, he hopes to learn the truth about a traumatic experience from Adele’s childhood that, in her mind, has become fused with an invented sighting of a soucouyant, the vampire-like female monster of Caribbean lore.

Issues of racism, poverty, and sexual impropriety are all artfully woven throughout the novel, and Chariandy deftly captures the mixed emotions and often brutal day-to-day experiences of caring for loved ones who have lost control of their physical and mental faculties.

Unfortunately, the last quarter of the book falls flat. Endings are tacked onto Adele’s stories, relationships are explained, and background is provided for secondary characters in just a few pages. Showing his scholarly roots (he is a professor of literature at Simon Fraser University), Chariandy also throws in a brief history of Trinidad and the Second World War, information that could have been distributed more evenly throughout the narrative.

Despite these shortcomings, however, Soucouyant is a promising first effort from a writer who has an obvious gift for storytelling.