In the Castle of My Skin

by George Lamming

Start Free Trial

Critical Overview

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 707

In the Castle of My Skin, George Lamming's first novel, was an immediate success in the Anglophone West Indian literary communities of London (where many writers lived) and the Caribbean. As one of the first important statements of the links between individual lived experience and the structures of racism and British colonialism, the novel (published with an introduction by the American Richard Wright, author of Native Son) was hailed as an important statement of the growing anticolonial movement in France and England. However, many also noted its skillful technique and elegant use of language.

Contemporary literary critics, as well, were positive for the most part. Graham Cotter of the Canadian Forum remarked that "if Mr. Lamming is at all representative of Barbadians, the colony has a more interesting 'personality' than any other West Indian Island. Certainly I have read no other West Indian literature which displays the keen perception and insight of this book." Cotter did feel, though, that the "sprawling structure" of the novel made it difficult to read. In the Chicago Sunday Tribune, M. S. Douglas effused that "one little Barbadian, grown up, has written in the most beautiful singing English a complex and brilliant novel of his boyhood and his people which miraculously has lost nothing of that dazzled wonder ... probably very close to genius." H. C. Webster wrote in the Saturday Review that the novel was "highly rewarding both as a social and as a personal document." "Something strange, emotional and compassionate, something between garrulous realism and popular poetry ... quite delightful," noted V. S. Pritchett in the New Statesman and Nation. And R. D. Charques praised the novel in the Spectator for being "a striking piece of work, a rich and memorable feat of imaginative interpretation."

Other critics, while still admiring the book, pointed out what they saw as faults, and most of these noted the loose structure of the novel. "The effect is one of a series of sharp and brilliant sketches rather than of a unit," Anthony West wrote in the New Yorker, and in Webster's largely positive review of the book (quoted above) in the Saturday Review, he added that it was "occasionally verbose [and] sometimes tedious." The most negative major review of the book appeared in the London Times Literary Supplement, which argued that

Mr. Lamming appears to have been unable to make up his mind whether to explore the world of adolescent consciousness or the world of social history ... It is an artistic flaw which is so glaring that after a time it ceases to matter; the eye is less irritated by a beam than by a series of motes.

This very aspect of the book—its combination of the personal and the political—criticized by the TLS has been the source of much of its enduring praise. More importantly, though, this was Lamming's attempt to contribute to the theory of the oppressed that Frantz Fanon was developing at the same time. Fanon, in his books Black Skin, White Masks and The Wretched of the Earth, argued that the colonial system has deep and unacknowledged psychological effects upon colonized peoples. His theories explain these effects, while Lamming's novels illustrate them. In most of Lamming's later writings, he expanded upon these themes. Because of this political content, moreover, the French leftist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre bought the rights to translate the book into French and publish it in France in his journal Les Temps Modernes. The book won the Somerset Maugham Award for Literature in 1957.

Recent attention paid to Caribbean literature has paid off for Lamming's novel. The great success of such West Indian writers as V. S. Naipaul and Derek Walcott brought the eyes of the world to the English-language writers of the Caribbean, and to respond to this Schocken Books reissued the novel in 1983 (it was republished again in the 1990s by the University of Michigan Press). Lamming continues to write but has not published a novel since 1971. In the Castle of My Skin and the three books that followed continued the saga of a young Caribbean writer much like Lamming who went to London then returned to the Caribbean to involve himself in the independence struggle; they remain perhaps the definitive statement of the Caribbean colonial experience.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Critical Context (Critical Guide to British Fiction)


Essays and Criticism