Summary and book reviews of The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle

A Novel

By Monique Roffey

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle
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  • Paperback: Apr 2011,
    448 pages.

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Book Summary

Paperback Original

Monique Roffey's Orange Prize-shortlisted novel is a gripping portrait of postcolonialism that stands among great works by Caribbean writers like Jamaica Kincaid and Andrea Levy.

When George and Sabine Harwood arrive in Trinidad from England, George is immediately seduced by the beguiling island, while Sabine feels isolated, heat-fatigued, and ill-at-ease. As they adapt to new circumstances, their marriage endures for better or worse, despite growing political unrest and racial tensions that affect their daily lives. But when George finds a cache of letters that Sabine has hidden from him, the discovery sets off a devastating series of consequences as other secrets begin to emerge.

CHAPTER ONE
The Blimp

Every afternoon, around four, the iguana fell out of the coconut tree. Bdup! While sunbathing, it had fallen asleep, relaxing its grip, dropping from a considerable height. It always landed like a cat, on all fours, ready to fight. The dogs always went berserk, gnashing and chasing after the creature as it fled, scuttling across the grass, a streak of lime green disappearing off into the undergrowth.

'It never remembers the day before,' Sabine remarked. 'Never remembers its dreams, either, I suppose. Brain like a peanut. '

The lizard's daily plummet acted like an alarm clock, prompting Sabine to make their afternoon pot of tea. She went to put the kettle on.

'Jennifer, tell your son Talbot to come and kill that damn lizard.'

But Jennifer only rolled her eyes. She'd dominated the kitchen all day, baking gooey cakes and sweet-breads, stewing chicken with brown sugar. She'd been making pellau for the weekend. On the kitchen table, two halves of ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Have you been to Trinidad? If so, how well do you think Monique Roffey captures the country, its politics, and its internal race relations? If you've never visited the region, how has reading this book changed or confirmed your conceptions of Trinidad?

  2. Is it wise for Talbot to accept George's help? Does he have a choice?

  3. In one of her many letters to Eric Williams, Sabine writes, "George has gone mad. He sleeps with other women, flaunts his charms. All this has gone to his head… Too much rum. Too many beautiful women on this goddamn island" (p. 48). Do you—like Sabine—believe that George would have been more faithful to her if they'd remained in England?

  4. Can you empathize with Sabine's fascination with Eric ...
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Reviews

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Seamlessly integrating political issues involving race, colonialism, and the legacy of slavery with the more personal conflicts that Sabine and George experience in their marriage, Roffey crafts a novel whose epic scope - the action spans 50 years and is broken down into temporal sections: 2006, 1956, 1963, and 1970 - belies its intimate perspective.   (Reviewed by Marnie Colton).

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Media Reviews
The Guardian (UK)

A rich and highly engaging novel.

Financial Times (UK)

[Roffey's] plot engages the reader through a gradual revelation of the past - slowly forming a melancholy whole.

The Times (UK)

Roffey's evocation of Trinidad is extraordinarily vivid, the central relationship beautifully observed... deservedly short-listed for the Orange Prize.

The Sunday Telegraph (UK)

Equal love and attention go into the marriage and the country at the heart of this Orange Prize short-listed novel... It's a book packed with meaty themes, from racism to corruption to passion and loyalty.

The Independent (UK)

[A] brilliant, brutal study of a marriage overcast by too much mutual compromise.

London Evening Standard (UK)

A searing account of the bitter disappointment suffered by Trinidadians on securing their independence from British colonial rule and of the mixed feelings felt by a white couple who decide to stay on. An earthy, full-blooded piece of writing, steaming with West Indian heat.

Elle Magazine

Heart-rending and thought-provoking, you will never again see the Caribbean as just another holiday destination.

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Calypso

In 1956, Americans were getting their first taste of Trinidad's unique contribution to music in the form of Harry Belafonte's infectious crossover hit, "The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)." A brief fervor for all things calypso followed, resulting in such nutty fare as tough guy actor Robert Mitchum's album, Calypso - Is Like So... (1957), and kitschy B movie Bop Girl Goes Calypso (1957). Although Belafonte may have been known as the King of Calypso in the United States (a claim to fame never made for Mitchum), Trinidadians revered serious performers like Lord Kitchener, Sir Lancelot, and the Mighty Sparrow, and for them, calypso symbolized much more than barbecue background music.


The roots of calypso are believed to date back to the ...

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