George Lamming Lamming, George (Vol. 2) - Essay

Lamming, George (Vol. 2)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Lamming, George 1927–

West Indian novelist and poet, author of In the Castle of My Skin and Season of Adventure.

George Lamming is not so much a novelist as a chronicler of secret journeys to the innermost regions of the West Indian psyche. In order to ensure that he is unimpeded by the traditional novelistic conventions, he brings a private vision to bear on time and space, uniting them into an inseparable entity and islanding this entity in his own fertile imagination.

His first novel, "In the Castle of My Skin," written in prose that was dazzlingly original, described a journey from childhood to adolescence; his second, "The Emigrants," was the work of a brilliant but detached narrator accompanying a shipload of nomadic West Indians to Britain. "Of Age and Innocence" and "Season of Adventure," his third and fourth books, almost defeat the reader with the sheer density of their prose, but they were occasionally seeded with ideas and illuminating insights that finally made the labor of reading them worthwhile. They took one back from Britain to the Caribbean, and it was as though Lamming was attempting to rediscover a history of himself by himself. His single nonfiction work, "The Pleasures of Exile," was a neo-Gothic piece with ideas arching like flying buttresses; along with these ideas were varied and disparate existentialist happenings.

In all of Lamming's previous works he seemed to be balanced in an uneasy equipoise between the white colonizer and the black or brown colonized. But his most recent novel, "Natives of My Person," the glittering product of 10 years of writing and rewriting, has finally released his spirit from its restive thralldom; he sheds the fear and the guilt of the colonized and makes an uninhabited journey to the heart of the colonizer…. "Natives of My Person" is undoubtedly George Lamming's finest novel. It succeeds in illuminating new areas of darkness in the colonial past that the colonizer has so far not dealt with, and in this sense it is a profoundly revolutionary and original work.

Jan Carew, "Blighted Voyage to Utopia," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 27, 1972, pp. 4-30.

George Lamming's Natives of My Person takes the form of a rather dated but solid historical novel (I suspect that Robert Graves is somewhere in Lamming's mind), yet it records a history that never was on land or (in this case) sea….

Lamming's prose is portentous, hooked on simile, and anxious to suggest more than it says, inviting questions the story never answers….

Yet if reading Natives of My Person is a voyage into frustration and annoyance, Lamming's story survives and grows in the mind afterward. As you learn not to ask the questions he seems to invite, not to interrogate names and events for some efficient correspondence between the novel's world and ours, this imagined history reveals itself as a version of significances that "real" history is itself only a version of. Moral generality is a rare and dangerous aspiration for fiction, but Lamming's thick, slow-motion prose is capable of achieving it, reminding one of Conrad's successes as well as his indulgences.

Thomas R. Edwards, "The Real Thing," in The New York Review of Books (reprinted with permission from The New York Review of Books; © 1972 by NYREV, Inc.), March 9, 1972, pp. 19-20.

Big things happen so subtly that they barely break the surface of George Lamming's richly lyrical style in this his seventh book and sixth novel….

"Water With Berries" (a title which suggests almost nothing about the nature of this book) is easier to read than Lamming's other works, but it is in its way no less complex than any of them except "Natives of My Person," which is a masterpiece of complexity….

Lamming is Jamesian without being prudish or small. He filters this big story through the consciousnesses of characters—a group of West Indian artists in London—as finely drawn as any Henry James could have imagined. In their sentiments they are too political to be expatriates. They are exiles. But in the beginning the turbulent politics of their recently emancipated but not yet free homeland is secondary to the problems of their suicidally lonely personal lives….

Lamming's handling of all of this is almost surreal. This effect is achieved by withholding information which leaves us wandering as if in a dream. We are drawn forward by the poetry of the language until slowly we discover where we are.

George Davis, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 15, 1972, pp. 32-3.