The White Woman on the Green Bicycle – Monique Roffey

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 Short listed for the Orange Prize 2010

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle is set on the island of Trinidad. George Harwood is given a three-year contract to work on the island and so moves from England, with his wife Sabine, to take up the post. George quickly falls in love with his new surroundings, but Sabine is home sick and longs to return to England. This causes friction within their marriage, but Sabine comforts herself with a fixation on Trinidad’s new leader, Eric Williams. She explains all her problems in detailed letters to him, but can never bring herself to post them. One day George discovers these letters and realises how many of his wife’s problems had been kept hidden from him. He decides that he needs to prove how much he loves her, but things go very wrong…

There was some fantastic imagery in the book. This section is taken from the very beginning, but it sets the scene perfectly:

Every afternoon, around four, the iguana fell out of the coconut tree. Bdup! While sunbathing, it had fallen asleep, relaxing its grip, dropping from a considerable height. It always landed like a cat, on all fours, ready to fight. The dogs always went berserk, gnashing and chasing after the creature as it fled, scuttling across the grass, a streak of lime green disappearing off into the undergrowth.

There was quite a lot of dialect and this was occasionally difficult to follow, but I didn’t mind as it added to the atmosphere.

My main problem was that the book had no forward momentum and so I often found myself with no desire to read on. With a book of this length (my copy has 437 pages) this isn’t an ideal situation. If I put the effort into reading it then I was often rewarded, but there were times when I considered giving up as reading was a chore.

With hindsight it was a fantastic story, but the pace was too slow for me. I would have preferred it to have been much shorter, but I can see why it was short listed for the Orange prize.

Recommended to those who enjoy slow, character driven novels.

Not many people have read this one, but opinions seem mixed:

I was bowled over by this book.  Other Stories

 …didn’t have the star quality in terms of either plot or writing that my favourites from the Orange longlist have had. The B Files

I think this one will be nestling into my list of favourite reads for 2010. Buried in Print


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39 Comments

  1. Verity says:

    I read it!!

    http://cardigangirlverity.blogspot.com/2010/04/week-of-orange-wednesdays-white-woman.html

    I quite liked it, but it certainly wasn’t my favourite of the longlist…

    1. Jackie says:

      Verity, Thanks for the link – I’ve updated my post now. The quote I included in my post from your review sums up exactly how I feel about this book – good, but not my favourite.

      1. Verity says:

        Thanks for the quote *feels important*

  2. LizF says:

    I started reading this but found it slow going and it had to go back to the library before I had got very far (although it didn’t help that I had made my usual mistake of getting far more books from the library than I could realistically read in a set amount of time).
    Initially I found the dialect a bit difficult to follow, but having read The Long Song since and managed to get the hang of the dialect in that, I am tempted to buy a copy and read it slowly, as I did like her writing style and it was an interesting story (as far as I got anyway!)

    1. Jackie says:

      LizF, It is good to know that I’m not the only one to find this slow going. I found the dialect in this much harder work than The Long Song, but it does get easier as you get into it. Glad to know I’m not the only one who gets far to many books from the library :-)

  3. I agree!! I have been putting off reviewing this one as I can’t summon up enough enthusiasm to say much about it…*slaps wrist*… I think I’ve been spoiled with so many “wow” books recently that it just bleated “meh” at me. It’s difficult to put into words – a very well written book but it left me cold for some reason or other. I must get my thoughts in order and try to work out why!

    1. Jackie says:

      Teresa, That is a problem I find too! The more books I read, the harder it is to impress me. I thought this was OK, but I’m after books that WOW me. Good luck with your review writing!

  4. Violet says:

    Very interesting premise, I don’t think I’ve read anything based in Trinidad. But 437 pages with no forward momentum does not sound very appealing

    1. Jackie says:

      Violet, I think that with your aversion to chunksters you should steer clear of this one :-)

  5. Sandy says:

    I’d love to read more books with an island setting, but I’m not sure I have the patience these days to read something slow-paced. I have to be in the perfect mood for something like that, otherwise I get antsy.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I think I’d need to be in Trinidad to make the most of this one – sounds like a good excuse for a holiday to me ;-)

  6. Laura says:

    Well, I don’t mind a slow-paced book (I loved both Gilead and Home for example), and I don’t shy away from chunksters at all, but I’m not at all sure about combining the two ! Add to that the mixed reviews and, well, I think I can put this one off for a while.

    Nice review, Jackie.

    1. Jackie says:

      Laura, The pace of this is a lot faster than Home, but the length of the book made it seem worse than it was. I’m sure the fact it is on the Orange list will mean you’ll get round to it one day and I hope you enjoy it more than I did.

  7. Amy says:

    Sounds like an interesting book, but not sure I’d like something so long and slow at the moment. Might put it on the ‘read at some point in time’ list as opposed to the ‘read as soon as possible’ list :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, Sounds like a good plan :-)

  8. Steph says:

    This actually sounds really interesting to me, and of late I’ve been doing quite well with longish books! My mom is originally from Trinidad, so I’d like to read more books that are set there. I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for this one!

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I didn’t realise your mom is from Trinidad – I’m sure the personal connection will mean that you will enjoy this book a lot more than I did.

  9. Stephanie says:

    I read this not too long ago as well.

    http://aroomwithtoomanybooks.wordpress.com/2010/05/05/the-white-woman-on-the-green-bicycle/

    It’s funny, generally I completely agree with you that long, slow character-driven books are not my favorite. However, something about this book totally captivated me. Perhaps it’s because the main character and I have had similar experiences, or perhaps it’s because, as you pointed out, the imagery was lovely, but for once I didn’t have trouble with this sort of book. I really enjoyed it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Stephanie, Shared experiences make books a lot more interesting. I’m pleased that you enjoyed it and hope that I enjoy The Lacuna (my last Orange read) a lot more than you did :-)

  10. I really want to read it after having read a couple of reviews. I normally prefer plot-driven stories, but I might just settle for a character-driven one for once.

    1. Jackie says:

      Susi, I look forward to seeig what you make of this one. There is some plot, so you might be OK – enjoy!

  11. Iris says:

    This was one of the books from the Orange-list that I was really looking forward to reading if I ever get my hands on it. I’m sorry to hear it didn’t quite work for you.

    1. Jackie says:

      Iris, It sounded the bmost interesting to me too :-( I hope you get your hands on a copy soon.

  12. vivienne says:

    I loved the passage you quoted about the iguana. Sorry the rest of the book didn’t work for you though.

    1. Jackie says:

      vivienne, I love the iguana too! There were a few wonderful passages like that – it is a shame there weren’t more :-(

  13. Alyce says:

    I’ve noticed that award winners tend to be this way for me in general – that I have to work hard to read them. So I guess for me it all depends on if I’m in the mood for a book like that, and then if the book is right for me, and with this type of book I really can’t tell without trying.

    1. Jackie says:

      Alyce, I know what you mean – award winners are generally harder work, but I think the very best are accessible to all, but stand up to mutiple readings. This book doesn’t require a lot of work – it is just the length of it that is hard given the slow pace. You’ll have to try it yourself and see what you think!

  14. nomadreader says:

    This one is next in my queue after I finish The Lacuna. I’m looking forward to it, as I’ve heard the setting and characters are delightful. I’m glad to know the pacing was off for you–so far I’ve only read glowing reviews. I’ll be eager to weight in soon!

    1. Jackie says:

      nomadreader, I look forward to seeing what you make of this one and your thoughts on the rest of the Orange list.

  15. Michele says:

    The weird thing is that when I was younger, I really enjoyed slower, character-driven novels. I’d seek them out. But the older I get, the less patience I have for them. I wonder if that has something to do with having kids (no patience) or getting older (life is starting to go by so fast and there’s not enough time to read all the books I want to)…..hmmm.

    1. Jackie says:

      Michele, LOL! I’ve never had the patience for them – I was hoping that I might find it as I get older!!

  16. Violet says:

    I borrowed this from the library, but never got around to reading it. Doesn’t sound as though it would have held my interest, but I might have another go at it sometime.

    1. Jackie says:

      Violet, make sure you save it for a time when you have a lot of patience!

  17. mee says:

    Oh you know I have this book on my shelf, though I never had high expectation of it. I was interested because of the Trinidad author and setting. Don’t know if there’s a better book on Trinidad. Do you know any?

    1. Jackie says:

      mee, I think this might be the only book I’ve read set in Trinidad :-( Sorry I can’t be of more help.

  18. Kathleen says:

    I don’t mind a slower pace when the novel is character-based. However, I have to be in the right mood to plod along with the author. With summer coming I don’t think I would have the patience for this one right now. Maybe when the weather turns cold and I’m not out and about quite as much.

    1. Jackie says:

      Kathleen, I tend to have more time for books with a slower pace in the Winter too. This book has a very summery feel to it though (all that Trinidad sun!) so I’m not sure it is a book for Winter.

  19. Thanks for linking to my review, Jackie: it does seem as though it was more my kind of story than it was yours, although I, too, loved the opening scene. If others are looking for a story with forward momentum, I think they could be frustrated as you were, but the story’s structure was one of the elements that impressed me the most. Starting with 2006 and then offering bits in the past (moving from most-recent to furthest-past) involved me in the story in a wholly different way; I’d love to re-read now to see how my reactions to the events might change with a wider understanding of George and Sabine’s relationship (and their evolving relationships with Trinidad).

    1. Jackie says:

      BuriedinPrint, I think this is a book where more layers would be revealed on re-reading. That makes me think this is a strong contender for the Orange prize, as those judges do a lot of re-reading. I hope you enjoy your re-reading!

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