Trinidad-born author Monique Roffey talks to Metro about her new novel Archipelago, and her Caribbean roots in this interview with Metro
Monique Roffey is showing her holiday photographs. ‘That’s my leg after I fell out of bed during a storm,’ she says, pointing to a volcanic-looking wound surrounded by ominous black tissue. ‘These are the slave huts on Bonaire – you must go there, it’s amazing. And this is my brother’s house after the flood. It was totally destroyed. We found his goldfish in the mud.’
Four years ago, Roffey says, she was ‘a writer whom no one had heard of who had written a book about Trinidad that no one wanted to read’. Her second novel, The White Woman On The Green Bicycle, about an Englishwoman in Trinidad obsessed with the former prime minister Eric Williams, had been rejected by 27 publishers before finding a home with Pocket Books. No newspaper reviewed it. ‘By that point I wasn’t even sure I’d ever write another book,’ she says.
Then, in 2010, it got shortlisted for the Orange Prize, alongside works by Hilary Mantel, Barbara Kingsolver and Lorrie Moore. ‘My mother turned up from Trinidad wearing a leopard-skin dress for the award night,’ says Roffey. ‘She likes to tell everyone I came third. If I never get shortlisted for another prize again, I simply won’t care.’
Roffey may well find her way on to more prize lists; she certainly hasn’t stopped writing. Like its predecessor, her new novel, Archipelago, takes its starting point from family history: in this instance the storms and floods that crashed across the Caribbean in December 2008. They took her brother’s house in Maraval, Trinidad, with them.
In the novel, her fictional protagonist Gavin loses his baby son in the flood and, with his wife rendered catatonic with grief at home, embarks on a boat trip to the Galápagos with his six-year-old daughter, a trip Roffey half completed as research. The result is lovely: a novel full of sensual, elemental descriptions, soaked in loss and damage, and softly haunted by the Caribbean’s bloody history of slavery.
‘I’m not expecting the academics in the Caribbean to like it,’ she laughs. ‘They’ll say it’s not political enough. But I plan to write another big book about the Caribbean next. It’s my subject now. My muse.’
Roffey, 47, was born in Trindad’s capital, Port Of Spain, to an English father and a half-Egyptian mother. Although she was educated in Britain, half her soul remains in Trinidad. The White Woman was loosely based on her glamorous parents, who arrived in Trinidad in 1956 with two suitcases and a green bicycle at a time of enormous change, with Williams attempting to shake off the legacy of colonialism.
Roffey wrote the book in Trinidad and identifies strongly with the new wave of post-colonial writers of the Caribbean diaspora. ‘Junot Díaz, Kei Miller,’ she says. ‘There’s a whole new generation coming up behind Walcott, Lovelace and Naipaul.’
She hasn’t just written about the Caribbean, however; With The Kisses Of His Mouth is Roffey’s 2011 memoir of the journey of sexual self-discovery she embarked upon after the catastrophic collapse of her largely celibate relationship with her beloved ex-boyfriend. In it she describes everything from phone sex to tantric workshops via gorging on a man covered with chocolate. Her lack of hesitation on the page can be eye-watering.
Roffey is one of the most sexually candid women I have ever met. ‘The difference between a tantric lover and a non-tantric lover is a football field apart,’ she tells me at one point. ‘Most men have no understanding at all of the female yoni,’ she says at another.
She is, in other words, a bit of a hippy. ‘I’ve always been broke,’ she says cheerily. ‘It’s very liberating knowing you have no responsibilities.’ These days she has Jungian analysis twice a week and speaks of her forties as her boom years – in every sense. Somehow you suspect those boom years are far from over.
Archipelago (Simon & Schuster) is out now, priced £12.99
For the original report go to http://www.metro.co.uk/lifestyle/905685-monique-roffey-my-soul-lies-firmly-in-the-caribbean