Nicole Dennis-Benn’s debut novel explores living on the island of Jamaica. Masquerading behind a jovial gay cover in bright orange, yellow, and green, Here Comes the Sun, starts gently and insidiously goes places we aren’t prepared for. The novel revolves around three unlikable main characters – Delores, Margot, and Thandi, who form an unforgettable trio. Delores is a mother preoccupied with money and not enough to the real well-being of her daughters. Margot her oldest daughter is motivated to work in the hotel and she gets to the point of selling her body to hotel guests to earn enough money to pay for Thandi’s education and the family’s house expenses. Thandi, Delores’ youngest daughter, is 15 years younger than Margot. She’s brilliant in school and is searching to be loved and accepted. All the family’s desires of escaping poverty in River Bank are tied up in the hopes of Thandi succeeding at school and eventually going to medical school to become a doctor.
The setting of this novel is River Bank a quiet little village situated near a resort hotel, where cruise ships make frequent stops with nonchalant tourists. Life in poverty on an island can make people do things they would have never thought of doing to survive. The way Dennis-Benn uses light and darkness to convey the moods of the characters and to set a scene is masterly. Told with luscious language and poignant analogies, she accurately paints the picture of the horrific situations facing Jamaicans in little sleepy towns near luxurious high-rise resorts. As I was reading this novel, it made me think of A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid and the rage that ran through the novel.
“The darkness claims her, encircles her with black walls that eventually open up into a path for her to walk through. She takes a few steps, aware of the one foot in front of the other; of the strangeness creeping up her spine, wrapping itself around her belly, shooting up into her chest, The scent of the bougainvilleas that line the fence is like a sweet embrace. The darkness becomes a friendly accomplice. Yet, the familiar apprehension ambushes her: Can she be seen? She looks over her shoulder and contemplates the distance it would take for her to walk to her house from here. A good mile. She stands in front of the bright pink house that emerges from the shadows. It seems to gloss in the dark….”(Here Comes the Sun, pp. 15-16)
Here Comes the Sun is a novel that mixes a good plot with excellent character development. It’s obvious that Dennis-Benn set out to depict a story showing the sociological implications of the difficulties people on the island face, while balancing the plot with pertinent themes such as homosexuality, mother/daughter relationships, colorism, sexism, class, race, missing fathers and of course the long-lasting effects of colonialism on the thoughts and behavior of the island people. You’re probably thinking that this sounds like a lot to put in a 345 page book, but it’s brilliantly balanced, paced, and speaks clearly to the reader.
Having four generations living under the same roof was Dennis-Benn’s way of having the reader follow and understand the difficulties of each character. Dolores is a horrible mother but her discourse is obviously that of the after effects of colonialism. Money is the only thing that she believes will get them out of where they are. She would subscribe to the expression – You gotta do what you gotta do. Delores’ voice and a few of the other secondary characters like Charles, Miss Ruby, and Maxi are always in Jamaican dialect which roots the reader into the tradition of life in River Bank. The dialect isn’t hard to understand. Saying the lines out loud can help you understand the meaning better if you struggle with reading dialect. Margot hiding her homosexuality, her deep hatred for her mother, and her desire to earn enough money to leave River Bank and set up elsewhere drive her throughout the story and the lengths she goes to make this happen are mind-blowing. Thandi who has the weight on her shoulders to succeed in school to save her family from poverty and at the same time doesn’t feel accepted in her school; has seemed to take in all the derogatory things she hears about dark skin. “Tsk, tsk. Well, God played a cruel joke on you. Because, chile, if yuh skin was as pretty as yuh hair, you’d be one gorgeous woman.” (Here Comes the Sun, p. 25) Sadly, she is so sure that she’ll be accepted if her skin is lighter.
You’ll be glued from the moment you begin to read this story, anxious to find out what’s going to happen next, shocked as you’re pulled through all the twists and turns. All the secondary characters are just as memorable as Delores, Margot, and Thandi. The only real problem I had with Here Comes the Sun was the ending, to be exact the last chapter. I was really disappointed to not get the closure I was hoping for once the novel was finished. I wanted to know what happened to the characters. Chapter 40 left me dissatisfied. I really enjoyed all the other parts of the novel and felt they were perfect. Unfortunately, the outcomes of the characters are left hanging and inferred. It felt like she had no idea how to finish this book or maybe she was reluctant to end the book with all the loose ends perfectly tied up. Could she have felt that ending the book this way shows that life goes on, as if we the readers were just witnesses to a part of these characters’ lives? I’m wondering if maybe she plans on using these characters for another book. That would make a great second book. 😉 So, have you read this one and if not are you interested in trying it?
My copy: Here Comes the Sun, 345 pages
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