Earl Lovelace: Uncertainty has made religion become more extreme

The award-winning author Earl Lovelace talks to metro.com about Caribbean culture, the impact that Carnival has had on his life, and his new book, Is Just a Movie.

My name is Kangkala, maker of confusion, recorder of gossip, destroyer of reputations, revealer of secrets,’ begins Earl Lovelace’s new novel, Is Just a Movie, set during the tumultuous early 1970s in Lovelace’s native Trinidad.

Music, broken hearts, revolution and scandal sway through the novel, which, like all of Lovelace’s books, is forged in the dizzying heat of Carnival and the hotbed of post-independence politics.

As a writer, does he feel affinity with his calypso singer/narrator? ‘Of course,’ he grins. ‘Novelists are just like calypso singers: both tell stories. Both tell a people who they are. Novels should be heard as well as read.’

Before we start our interview, Lovelace is keen to mention the cricket, of which he is a huge fan. ‘You English have done incredibly well,’ he says, before cheekily adding ‘after so long in the doldrums.’

Cricket is another facet of everyday Caribbean life that crops up in the kaleidoscopic work of Lovelace, who, along with VS Naipaul and poet Derek Walcott, is part of that triumvirate of Caribbean writers who have received huge acclaim overseas as well as at home: Naipaul and Walcott are both Nobel prize winners, while Lovelace won the Commonwealth Writers prize for his 1997 novel Salt) adorning their respective bookshelves.

Yet if Lovelace is the lesser known, it’s partly because he’s opted to remain at home in Trinidad, living among the streets and people who inspire his work. ‘I didn’t want to write from memory,’ he says. ‘I felt I had to be home. And it felt important for me to be here, to write about what was going on.’

Trinidad and Tobago may have negotiated with relative stability the legacy of slavery that has convulsed so many African and Caribbean countries but in 1970 enormous questions about ‘where we want to go, what kind of people we want to be’, as Lovelace puts it, exploded in the form of riots and radicalism.

Is Just A Movie loosely picks up where Lovelace’s 1979 novel, The Dragon Can’t Dance, left off in the town of Cascadu, where Lovelace lives. It’s the aftermath of the short-lived Black Power Revolution, which briefly forced prime minister Eric Williams to accommodate a form of Afro-centric politics against a simmering backdrop of anti-white racism towards Trinidad’s multi-ethnic population.

Written in a mix of musical rhythms and patois, the novel boasts various characters based on real people, including Williams and the black activist Stokely Carmichael, although Lovelace is quick to point out that his ‘factionalised fiction’ is also seeded by the earth and spit of everyday life. ‘There’s a local cricketing hero, for instance, who makes his way into the novel,’ he grins. ‘It’s all about the intermingling of high and low.’

Although born in Trinidad, Lovelace spent his childhood in Tobago with his grandparents and extended family. A compulsive reader from a young age, he quickly moved into writing after abandoning a career in journalism. It was as a child that he had his first taste of Carnival, seeing a man playing a dragon in an otherwise insignificant band. ‘Just that made me realise what Carnival was,’ he says.

That ecstatic transformation of human experience that lies at the heart of Trinidadian culture remains the great life force in all his novels – The Dragon Can’t Dance is about a man who lives for Carnival each year. For Lovelace, Carnival is a space in which to ask big universal questions about the human condition – just like the novel. ‘It’s a place where you can be better than yourself,’ he says. ‘But I’m also interested in the other places. Where are they?

In Europe is it football, perhaps? Religion, yes, but the problem is that religion has become more extreme the more uncertain people feel.’

So will he be going to Carnival this year? ‘Oh yes. Last year I even played in a mas band and I might do so again.’

Is Just A Movie (Faber) is out January 20, priced £12.99.

For the original report go to http://www.metro.co.uk/lifestyle/852504-earl-lovelace-uncertainty-has-made-religion-become-more-extreme#ixzz1Axk5WDio

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