Brown Girl in the Ring

Nalo Hopkinson
Brown Girl in the Ring Cover

Brown Girl in the Ring

Ann Walker

I found this book quite unexpectedly engaging and affecting.

The protagonist is a young mother, hungry, exhausted, frustrated with her life. She has left her baby daddy, knowing the environment in which she previously lived would not be the best one to raise her child. I've never been an Afro-Caribbean unwed mother, but the writing was so evocative that I could certainly relate to her mingled feelings of resentfulness and love towards her child - what mother, to be honest, hasn't felt the same?

The setting, too, is chilling - distopian Toronto, following the economic collapse of the inner city and its abandonment by the middle class (as well as the city government and protective and medical services). The city is a jungle, inhabited by human (and some not-so-human) predators, with small enclaves of companions who are determined to survive with a measure of dignity by helping each other. I confess that, except for the zombies, I don't find this view of the city too far-fetched: it could be in our near future.

The addition of Afro-Caribbean mythology, and vodoun, and body-snatchers, and zombies, ramps the story to another level - it's not simply gang enforcers and drug addicts we're dealing with here. This is not my usual thing, especially since the tale veered very sharply towards the horror genre, but I was fascinated.

The closing - after the successful resolution of the zombie issue - raised questions about the nature of love, anger, obsession. All very human concerns, and unexpectedly compelling within the context of the novel.

My only reservation with the novel is with the Afro-Caribbean dialect, which seemed a bit forced and heavy handed. This could be a first-novel issue; I've since read other stories by Ms Hopkinson (particularly "Ours is the Prettiest" in the wonderful Welcome to Bordertown anthology) where it was just-right and perfectly enhanced the story.