Nicole Dennis Benn’s debut novel is nothing short of a masterpiece as it narrates in forty chapters the lives of women who have had to go through life’s ordeals like betrayals, loss, identity crisis, economic struggles and pain. It is not easy to say who the main character is as the author gives attention to quite a number of characters but most important are Margot, her sister (Thandi) and her mother (Delores).
Margot works in a five star hotel for tourists and slaves all day to cater for the needs of her sister Thandi who she strongly encourages to face her studies. Working hard for Margot meant prostitution. With the proceeds made from this, she affords to pay Thandi’s school fees at a well-respected school.
The animosity between Delores and Margot is quite revealed from the onset. Delores also slaves to give Thandi the best of education and always emphasizes that Thandi is not like her sister. Margot and Delores harbour a hope that Thandi’s education will pave the way for a brighter future for them both but things didn’t turn out as planned as all secrets come to light gradually.
The pressure that Thandi faces to be somebody and go to medical school leaves her frustrated as she finds joy in art which her sister and mother believe is a sheer waste of time. Margot is under pressure daily to leave the shelter of Delores and fend for herself outside her mother’s gaze and works hard to gather enough money to move out of the shack that they have called a home. The pressure to leave the confines of poverty pushes Delores to do the unthinkable towards her daughter (Margot). The societal pressure to be light skinned so that one gets accepted in certain circles makes Thandi seek Mrs Ruby to help bleach her skin. Alphonso is under pressure to supersede his dad’s legacy in the way the Wellington estate has been run pushes him to begin a prostitution ring in which Margot becomes boss lady. Margot’s pressure to prove to her mother that she can be somebody makes her frame Mrs Novia Scott Henry which leads to her exit from the hotel and Margot takes over.
In the midst of all these pressures internally and externally, pleasure fuels the story too. Margot is a pleasurable tool for men but she also uses them to her advantage. Margot finds pleasure in the arms of another woman, Verdene who she claims to love but sacrifices that love on the altar of ambition. It is the pleasure that Thandi gets in the arms of Charles that breeds a love so strong that Charles beats up Clover for the hurt he caused Thandi at the age of nine. Verdene’s loneliness gives way when she begins a relationship with Margot but this pleasure is short lived when Margot conforms more to her own internal pressure to break out of the cycle of poverty and move out of her mother’s house. The pleasure that Margot should have gotten from her mother in a beautiful relationship (rather she is faced with a malicious mother) causes her to find pleasure in the arms of Verdene who is ten years older than she is.
Most of these characters actions were fuelled by Pressure and Pleasure and in the end no one seemed to find respite or some sort of peace and the cycle of pressure and pleasure still continues. This is one book that will keep you turning the pages. The reader will be drawn to the broken lives of these women. All these women really want is change, acceptance, love and a sense of belonging. The language is simple and the Patwa language is quite interesting to read. The author does well in showcasing the economic realities of Jamaica and how it affects the characters. It is an interesting read!