Marriage shows shift in Trinidad in Roffey’s novel

Jennifer Kay reviews Monique Roffey’s The White Woman on the Green Bicycle.

“The White Woman on the Green Bicycle” (Penguin), by Monique Roffey: There’s a point in every tropical vacation where it seems brilliant to stay indefinitely, to stay bronzed and warm, lingering over the local cuisine, believing it’s possible to become a local.

The bloated, leathery, spotted skin of George and Sabine Harwood, the central couple in Monique Roffey’s novel “The White Woman on the Green Bicycle,” should serve as a caution against staying in the sun too long.

The British couple moved to Trinidad as newlyweds in 1956, just as the Caribbean island began its transition from a British colony to an independent nation. Through the Harwoods’ turbulent marriage, Roffey explores the harsh legacy of slavery and colonialism, along with the disappointments and corruption that follow.

The novel opens in 2006, far from the tourist beaches. Sabine has suffered too long from the poisoning effects of the sun and a womanizing husband who failed to keep his promise that they would one day return to England. For years, she channeled her frustrations into letters to Eric Williams, whose government reforms captivated Trinidad when she had first arrived.

George’s discovery of her secret trove of letters, never sent, sets in motion a series of unfortunate events that reveal the pervasive racial and economic inequalities in a country that had hoped for something better than the shadow of colonialism. Trinidad’s racial segregation and the damage sustained by the Harwoods’ marriage are further explored in flashbacks to the couple’s early years on the island, when Sabine gains fame as the white woman who dares to pedal through Port-of-Spain on her green bicycle.

Roffey, born in Trinidad and now living in London, offers no easy way off the island. Instead of depicting the Caribbean’s famously clear blue sea, her novel reflects the harsh glare of a blistering sun on the water. Everyone gets a little burned

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