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The Pirate's Daughter - Margaret Cezair-Thompson

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

MARGARET Cezair-Thompson’s first novel, The True History of Paradise, was shortlisted for the prestigious IMPAC Award; her second, The Pirate’s Daughter, won the first ever Essence Literary Award for Fiction – impressive credentials that say a great deal about the author’s skill. But just how good is The Pirate’s Daughter?

Perhaps not surprisingly as she was born and raised there, The Pirate’s Daughter is set mainly on the Caribbean island of Jamaica. It’s there that the young and beautiful Ida Joseph meets and falls in love with legendary 1950s screen idol Errol Flynn.

Although Flynn falls in love with Jamaica and builds a luxurious home on nearby Navy island, Ida fails to tame him and they drift apart. But Ida bears Flynn’s child – a daughter, May, who is destined to meet her famous father just once. However, it’s a meeting that has a profound influence on May’s life, leading her to a voyage of self discovery and the creation of her alter-ego, the fictitious ‘pirate’s daughter’.

The Pirate’s Daughter is well written, has the requisite beginning, middle and end – which can’t be said of a great many contemporary novels – and Cezair-Thompson’s descriptive prose, particularly when it comes to Jamaica’s natural beauty, cannot be faulted. She even manages to unobtrusively incorporate the island’s troubled political and social past into her story.

Her characters too, are well drawn and three dimensional yet with the exception of Karl – Flynn’s friend who became Ida’s husband – I didn’t much care for them. May did, however, eventually earn my grudging respect. That said, I’m obviously no judge of character as the immaculate, well-connected Karl harboured a dark secret – one that ultimately failed to shock quite as much as perhaps was intended.

Cezair-Thompson also sensitively addresses issues of race, in particular, of being white in a black community (although Ida’s mother was Jamaican, her father was Lebanese and white like his daughter) and illegitimacy, the latter largely from May’s perspective as an ‘outside child’.

As for Flynn, I had hoped to learn more of this charismatic, tortured man but sadly, I was disappointed. And while appreciating the difficulties involved in combining fact and fiction, particularly in our compensation-obsessed society, this omission was, for me at least, the novel’s Achilles’ heel.

And there were times when I found the author’s use of Jamaican dialect distracting. It undoubtedly adds to the story’s authenticity (and I’ll admit that once I mastered it, I could actually hear my Jamaican friend speaking), it was akin to reading Chaucer in its original form.

Nevertheless, I didn’t once want to abandon Ida and May, for The Pirate’s Daughter is an enjoyable read, one best suited to lazy days by the hotel pool (it was, in fact, one of Richard and Judy’s recommended summer reads) or equally, cold winter evenings by the fireside.