10 May 2016

Patrick Chamoiseau: Solibo Magnifique (1988)

Solibo Magnifique is Patrick Chamoiseau's third novel, and was published four years before his Goncourt success Texaco (1992). I can't pretend to understand too much of this, particularly as a great deal of it concerns the relationship of French creole (both language and culture) to the dominance of the 'mother' French language and culture, and because there is so much untranslated French creole here.

Solibo Magnifique is a storyteller. He is said to have been strangled by the word, and indeed there is no evident reason for his death, so the police launch an investigation, driven by the false premise that he has been poisoned. This is a cue for the French cop Évariste Pilon and the local Bouaffesse to have the main suspect Bateau Français (also known as Congo) – a maker of manioc graters – savagely beaten up, causing him to leap out of the window to his death.

Also witnesses in the question of Solibo's death are the drummer Sucette, and Antoinette Maria-Jésus (or Sidonise) who has two children by the dead man – and is heartbroken. A number of other colourful characters appear here, including one Patrick Chamoiseau, who is listed as a storyteller too (not a writer), although (like most of the witnesses here) he is listed as having no profession.

This is carnavalesque, polyvocal stuff, and the meaning is deadly serious: what, exactly, is the nature of the death(s), which is surely more than creole itself, its of the loss of community, freedom of...what?

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