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The Lagahoo’s Apprentice

by Rabindranath Maharaj

As a schoolboy in Trinidad, Stephen Sagar was fascinated by lagahoos: shape-shifters, haunted creatures who sought the solitude of the woods. During 16 years in Canada, in a loveless marriage, he has sustained himself with such fantasies – until suddenly he is drawn back to the island by an unexpected summons to write the biography of a local politician. Unsurprisingly, Stephen is alienated by Trinidad’s oppressive lushness and jarring confusion, and by his pompous, sinister subject, Mr. Rampartap, and his bizarre entourage. He soon resigns, but instead of returning to Canada he seeks out the village where he grew up, where a sojourn with a long-forgotten lover bolsters him enough to go back for another look at Rampartap.

Against this bewitching, deftly conjured backdrop, Maharaj brings on a procession of angry, equivocal, caustically funny Trinidadian monologists. A fellow returnee says he abandoned Toronto because of the “static” – the shocks thrown up by the winter dryness. A radio call-in host threatens to push callers down an erupting volcano.

Maharaj, who lives in Ajax, Ontario, has already established a solid reputation with Homer in Flight, shortlisted for the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award, and his short story collection The Interloper. If this new novel fails to have the same impact, it is not for lack of vividness or memorably rendered voice, but because the central character steadfastly, infuriatingly, refuses to engage, except glancingly. Throughout this lengthy tale, when Stephen is offered any opportunity to better understand the smoke-and-mirrors Mr. Rampartap, or anyone else, he withdraws, evades, and ultimately undermines the force of the narrative. So enamoured is he with his own melancholy that he’s well on his way to becoming a lagahoo himself.