Robert G. O'Meally
[The Harder They Come] is a tale well-told by Thelwell. Dealing with Jamaica in the throes of sharp transition—from colonialism toward neo-colonialism; from the relatively independent and stable folk communities like the one Ivan [Rhygin] left to the fast, mad world where white coral and even a seat on the beachfront are bought and sold in the tourist trade—Thelwell uses a flexible idiom. The first section of the novel is appropriately naturalistic, and recalls the eloquently described worlds of Thelwell's apparent models, Andrew Salkey and Chinua Achebe. If in places the narrative ride is burdened with heavily schematic analyses and unneeded explication, elsewhere in the novel's opening chapters the allusions to lore, literature and history are wonderfully woven into the finely textured cloth of the novel. Thelwell's wry humor and his precise description of palpable detail rescue the early pastoral scenes from insincerity or mawkishness. There is no faking here. With sometimes grotesque vividness he describes scenes he must have witnessed, people he must have known. The scene, for instance, in which Ivan finds his grandmother dead in her house, is unforgettably striking…. (p. 6)
We meet Thelwell at his best when Rhygin hits Kingston, and the tale unfurls in a variety of versions and voices, with music and gunfire rocking and rattling through the book's pages. It is in the chaotic city, where mad Ivan becomes the fearless...
(The entire section is 458 words.)