AMERICAS AND THE CARIBBEAN

“He likes to look at the moon and imagine space. He imagines it to be very silent, very cool. You would definitely need a sweater.”

Golden Child is a confident debut novel by Claire Adam, which was recently awarded both the Desmond Elliott Prize for first time novelists and the Authors’¬†Club¬†Best First Novel Award. I read it as the third of my 20 books of summer.

The novel is gripping and assured, and the plot unfolds with a Sophoclean inevitability. There were echoes of Blood Brothers in this story of fraternal twins, Peter and Paul, who are destined for very different futures. Peter is academically brilliant and dedicated to his studies, while the other, Paul, is declared likely to have a degree of “retardation” after problems at birth. Despite his family’s insistence on his congenital lack of promise he seems very normal, perhaps with a learning difficulty like dyslexia, and certainly not an intellectual, but a sensitive, bright, physically assured boy.

The book is set in rural 1980s Trinidad, some distance from the capital Port of Spain, in an environment where crime and break-ins seem to be rampant, and families live simply. Tensions arise with one of the maternal uncles, Romesh, over the distribution of an inheritance, after the death of another relative, Uncle Vishnu. Meanwhile, the twins’ parents, Clyde and Joy, are determined that their sons will benefit from a good education, and the novel examines the level of sacrifice a parent might be prepared to make to ensure a glittering future.

Although we are given the opportunity to see events from Paul’s perspective, especially following the intervention of an Irish priest and school master, Father Kavanagh, the brilliant Peter remains a bit more opaque, which is the only real qualm I have with this novel. It’s a story that makes you catch your breath, and invites discussion on the responsibilities of parenthood and on the impossibility of judging what gives a life its value – in the days that have passed since I finished this novel I keep circling back to the unspooling of events with a kind of grim fascination.

Paul looks different with his long hair swept back from his face rather than hanging over his eyes – perfectly at ease. With his rolled-up trousers, the shirt sticking to his back, his face turned down against the rain, he reminds Father Kavanagh of pictures of men in old storybooks ploughing fields with their horses or pulling nets in from the sea.

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