Solibo Magnificent

Patrick Chamoiseau

translated from the French by Rose-Myriam Réjouis
A book review by Danny Yee © 2010
When master storyteller Solibo Magnificent dies mid-story during Carnival in Martinique's Fort-de-France, fourteen friends and bystanders are dragged — or run amok — into the brutal police investigation that ensues.

Solibo Magnificent is a multifarious novel. There's the tragi-comic response of the police and emergency services, with Chief Sergeant Bouafesse and Chief Inspector Pilon taking very different approaches, equally divorced from reality. And there's an engaging medley of characters from the underside of society, one of whom is, in a metafictional twist, the "word scratcher" Patrick Chamoiseau.

There's a fascination, if not an obsession, with language. Dialogue and sociolinguistic details are central to the characterisations. Chamoiseau explores the divide between standard French and everyday Caribbean Creole, using neologisms, puns and genre changes. And language even constitutes part of the plot, with Solibo himself dying "snickt by the word", a symbol of the death of oral tradition. One can get a feel for all of this even without the translator's note or afterword, though Solibo Magnificent must have posed some extraordinary translation problems.

None of this is at all heavy — Chamoiseau approaches it in a spirit of fun — and the story in Solibo Magnificent is propulsive, capturing something of the feel of a market storyteller in full flight.

September 2010

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%T Solibo Magnificent
%A Chamoiseau, Patrick
%M French
%F Réjouis, Rose-Myriam
%I Granta
%O paperback
%G ISBN 1862070288
%P 190pp