BookBrowse Reviews Queen of the Underworld by Gail Godwin

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Queen of the Underworld

by Gail Godwin

Queen of the Underworld by Gail Godwin X
Queen of the Underworld by Gail Godwin
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2006, 352 pages

    Paperback:
    Jan 2007, 368 pages

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A muted tragedy about a soul inside the body of a modern woman navigating through the terra incognita of modern times. Novel

From the book jacket: In the summer of 1959, as Castro clamps down on Cuba and its first wave of exiles flees to the States to wait out what they hope to be his short-lived reign, Emma Gant, fresh out of college, begins her career as a reporter. Her fierce ambition and belief in herself are set against the stories swirling around her, both at the newspaper office and in her downtown Miami hotel, which is filling up with refugees.

Emma's avid curiosity about life thrives amid the tropical charms and intrigues of Miami. While toiling at the news desk, she plans the fictional stories she will write in her spare time. She spends her nights getting to know the Cuban families in her hotel – and rendezvousing with her married lover, Paul Nightingale, owner of a private Miami Beach club.

As Emma experiences the historical events enveloping the city, she trains her perceptive eye on the people surrounding her: a newfound Cuban friend who joins the covert anti-Castro training brigade, a gambling racketeer who poses a grave threat to Paul, and a former madam, still in her twenties, who becomes both Emma's obsession and her alter ego. Emma's life, like a complicated dance that keeps sweeping her off her balance, is suddenly filled with divided loyalties, shady dealings, romantic and professional setbacks, and, throughout, her adamant determination to avoid "usurpation" by others and remain the protagonist of her own quest.

Comment: Godwin's latest novel has polarized reviewers; Booklist feels that she has "never written more voluptuously, nor had as much fun with a character or setting," but The Washington Post believes Queen of the Underworld "demonstrates a severe lack of authorial distance [and] suffers from a deadening lack of psychological insight and a maddening unwillingness to allow events to resonate as they could."

In short, this is a novel to approach with caution. If you have enjoyed other works by Godwin you might well enjoy this, especially if you want to know more about the writer herself but don't want to read her first volume of memoirs (The Making of a Writer: Journals, 1961-1963), which are being published at the same time as this apparently highly autobiographical novel.

However, if you are reading Godwin for the first time you maybe better served starting with one of her earlier novels which include A Mother and Two Daughters, Violet Clay and Father Melancholy's Daughter.

Interesting link: An interview with Gail Godwin on NPR

This review first ran in the January 18, 2006 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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