Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Review: The Last Warner Woman

The Last Warner Woman: A Novel
Kei Miller
Coffee House Press
Trade Paperback original
272 pages, $16
ISBN: 978-1-56689-295-7
a copy of this book was provided by the publisher

The Last Warner Woman is original, spellbinding, brilliant, and nearly impossible to summarize or describe. It is a mobius strip, leading the reader endlessly back to the beginning: the beginning of the novel, the beginning of story, the beginning of life. The Last Warner Woman is unlike any other novel I have read. It tells a story that has passion, true feeling, and a character whose gaze the reader can feel and whose voice the reader can hear long after closing the book. At the same time, The Warner Woman is full of metafictional tricks and narrative complexities--none of which detract from the inherent readability of the novel.

Jamaican-born writer Kei Miller begins his story in a leper colony, a "once upon a time" narrative told by a "Writer Man" narrator. The other voice in the novel is the powerful voice of the Warner Woman: Adamine Bustamante, born in a leper colony, reborn as a Warner Woman--a woman who literally warns of earthquake, accident, and Satan. The novel is told through the two narrative voices:  Adamine, in her down-to-earth vernacular, and The Writer Man, who artfully weaves together story (or as Adamine puts it, lies).

Adamine's voice is like the wind itself: irresistible, a force of nature. Miller conveys the feel of Jamaican patois without rendering Adamine's voice incomprehensible. The writer uses rhythm and a few choice words to give the reader the illusion of everyday speech, but a speech that is elevated and beautiful.

The Last Warner Woman is what happens when a woman tells the truth about her life. Adamine begins her life in a leper colony; her mother, the Original Pearline Portius, dies in childbirth. Adamine is raised by Agatha Lazarus, who lives to be one hundred and five. After Agatha's death, Adamine is called to a Christian Revival church, where she has a holy and profrane relationship with Captain Lucas, a holy man whose day job is as a yard man. She migrates to England, marries, and is ultimately locked in a mental hospital when her warnings are taken for delusions.

There is much pain in Adamine's life, but the pain is woven into something magnificent and wholly unexpected, like the purple doily the Original Pearline knits at the beginning of the story. To explain any more is impossible and beside the point--the reader just has to enter into the story and be dazzled. Adamine and The Writer Man are connected, and the whole of this book is knitted together with brilliant colors and themes that go to the very core of life. As I reached the last pages of the book, I realized that I was crying--and not just a few delicate tears--really crying. When I finished The Last Warner Woman I did what I often do when I'm really moved by a book: I went back and began reading again from the first pages. It was then that I realized the real genius of what Miller has done in this novel. This is a book I will read again and again--because there is that much there, and because I long to understand the craft of this novel.

I highly recommend this novel to readers who like a blend of the magical and the real. If you admire the novels of Toni Morrison or Gloria Naylor, you will love The Last Warner Woman. This is my favorite book this year, and I'm looking forward to Kei Miller's next publication--whatever it is, I'll be reading it.

Coffee House is offering a 30% discount for any of my readers who would like to purchase The Last Warner Woman from their web site. Go to http://www.coffeehousepress.org/ and use the code BIBLIOPHILIAC30.


bermudaonion said...

Wow, your favorite of the year is high praise! I'll have to look into this book.

Lisa said...

I love Toni Morrison and if this is your favorite of the year, those are two big selling points for me!