Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Audiobook Review: Prospero's Daughter by Elizabeth Nunez

Title: Prospero's Daughter
Author: Elizabeth Nunez
Narrator: Simon Vance
Publisher: Sound Library
Edition: Unabridged
Duration: 12 hours, 32 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Cut off from the main island of Trinidad by a glistening green sea, Chacachacare has few inhabitants besides its colony of lepers and a British doctor who fled England with his three-year-old daughter, Virginia. An amoral genius, Peter Gardner had used his talents to unsavory ends, experimenting, often with fatal results, on unsuspecting patients. Blackmailed by his own brother, Peter ends up on the small island as England’s empire is starting to crumble. 
On Chacachacare, Peter experiments chiefly on the wild Caribbean flora–and on the dark-skinned orphan Carlos, whose home he steals. Though Peter considers the boy no better than a savage, he nonetheless schools the child alongside his daughter. But as Carlos and Virginia grow up under the same roof, they become deeply and covertly attached to one another. 
When Peter discovers the pair’s secret and accuses Carlos of a heinous crime, it is up to a brusque, insensitive English inspector to discover the truth. During his investigation, a disturbing picture begins to emerge as a monstrous secret is finally drawn into the light.

Overall Rating: 2 out of 5

This title got my attention right away because of its link with Shakespeare. It's supposed to be a modern retelling of The Tempest, and I was interested in seeing what Nunez would do with that story. Unfortunately, I don't think it's a successful retelling.

Prospero's Daughter is about an orphan named Carlos who lives in the Caribbean. Peter, who has escaped England with his small daughter to avoid a scandal, steals Carlos's home and forces Carlos and another native woman to work as his servants. When the time comes for Peter to give his daughter, Virginia, lessons, Carlos feels sorry for the girl, since she isn't able to learn them fast enough for her father and is yelled at constantly. Carlos, whose parents taught him to read, secretly teaches Virginia how to read at night so that she can impress her father. Eventually, they end up falling in love, and when Carlos tells Peter of his intentions to marry Virginia, Peter accuses Carlos of rape and launches an investigation, in the hopes of getting Carlos arrested.

I think that the enjoyment you get out of this book really depends on what you're reading this book for. It's a great book about colonization, and what the natives go through when the English come in and take over their island. The story is well-written, and is generally enjoyable; however, if you're reading this as a modern retelling of The Tempest (as I was), or even for the "romance" you may be disappointed.

I'm all in favor of authors changing original plot points and characters to fit in with their retelling of the story. I don't think that happened enough in Prospero's Daughter, and when it did, I wasn't sure why the story changed. For example, I found it strange that Peter is portrayed as a mad scientist and Carlos describes him putting on a robe decorated with stars to do magic. I didn't get this. At first, I thought it was Carlos's imagination, but later, I wasn't sure. Though he's supposed to be a stand-in for Prospero, this didn't make sense to the story in general, and I think that Peter would have been a perfect Prospero without the "magic robe." Especially since The Tempest is directly mentioned in the story and Carlos blatantly calls Peter Prospero. One thing that changed that I didn't like was the fact that Carlos teaches Virginia to read, whereas in the play, Miranda teaches Caliban. I'm not sure what purpose this change was supposed to serve, especially when other things are so strictly adhered to, even when it doesn't make sense within the world that Nunez has created.

Though many people consider this a romance, I definitely do not. There is romance in this novel, but it's not really the main focus of the story. Actually, it's more of a plot device for the author to show the mistreatment and discrimination of the natives by the English. I also don't think that the resolution of what separates Virginia and Carlos is very well done. A romance between an English woman and a native from an island that the English have colonized will never be without its problems, and I think that Nunez overlooks the fact that there are some real challenges that people in the position of Virginia and Carlos would have faced.

As for listening to the audiobook version, I have no complaints. I think that Vance did an amazing job with all the voices and the characters. The switching of points of view and the dialogue were all extraordinarily easy to follow. I only wish that the story could have been better so that I could have enjoyed Vance's narration all the more.