Barbados – Unraveling

Guest Post by Mayan Rogel

In a town, in a foreign world, a woman, an investigative psychologist, gets into an accident, and from there – to a place that is not a place, a space that is not here nor familiar, the space of the undying, and the unliving. There she is called to serve, to help an angel and three undying, characters that are deeply intertwined in Caribbean culture, to investigate a series of ritual murders she had previously examined. Through a journey into labyrinths that the undying construct for her, and through a journey in time, space, dreams and fragments of memory, a journey that is constructed like an actual labyrinth, she embarks to investigate and solve the mystery.

If I had not committed myself to reading this book, I would probably have abandoned it after a couple of dozen pages. I am grateful that I did not quit. Not because it was better than what I expected, but rather because I rarely force myself to read from cover to cover a book that I do not enjoy. Not just a passive lack of desire to read, but an active struggle. Not wanting as its own action. Apparently, not wanting is a want, and a very powerful one.

But I did read it. Struggling.

There were times where I thought I was actually happy with the book; that it was exposing me to a different, special, work of story building; a narrative weave that jumps between story parts, between planes of existence. However, like the heroine at the heart of the labyrinths belonging to the three undying characters in the story, I also got lost. I also had a hard time understanding, and I also felt that my alertness and focus were melting into the convoluted explanations, the philosophy, and the mythology. And not because the mythology is lacking anything. On the contrary, it was the rich mythology, foreign to me, that pulled me in. Even when nothing else succeeded.

There is a magic to the Caribbean magic, in the promised danger of falling between the worlds, between death and life, between dream and reality, between delusion and nightmare, memory and forgetfulness. However, it didn’t work. Not the promise of magic, not the promise of a detective story, not the deciphering of the murders, not the exposure of the deep mechanisms in the world created by the author, from her culture. And only somewhere on page 240, out of 300 pages, did I understand why.

Karen Lord’s story is trying to be something else, not a human story but rather a story of the undying, the unliving, angels, and the fragments of existence of all those who became something else: humans who are also undying, and undying who are also humans. The angels, Karen Lord tells us, are above us. They live in a space where time is not linear, and movement in it is in all directions, dreams and reality exist together, and with them delusion, illusion and memories of the dead. They, the angels, understand everything, and below them exist the undying (not to be confused with those who live forever, undying as opposed to immortals). And the undying, who know how to move through time, and contain within themselves what was, what will be, and what simultaneously exists, and weave all of these into labyrinths, they are unable to understand the angels – the way the angels perceive the world. Beneath all of these exist the humans, with their linear awareness, and their single timeline mind.

This story, of Karen Lord, is trying to be the story of the undying. It moves in and weaves with time, forwards and backwards, in awareness, memories, and the nightmares of the characters, in the connections between them, and in the reflections and duplications of moments and scenes. It’s a story that tries to be more than a human story, and attempts to trace the way in which the undying weave a story. It twists like a labyrinth. There is a reason this is the image on the cover. And like the undying, the reader returns again and again to the same path, and each time the path changes, and repeats time after time the same moment, and sometimes the moment will happen, and sometimes it happened, and sometimes it happens again, but differently. Sometimes it is in a dream and sometimes in a delusion, and sometimes in a never ending nightmare, and we, like the humans at the heart of the story, have no way of figuring out what exactly is the story. What is actually happening. What happened when, and what happened before what – because that is how the inhuman creatures of Karen Lord think and exist.

But me? I’m a human. I exist in the world where the desire for eternal life is also a deep fear, and the fear of death is also occasionally a comfort. I live in an awareness where everything has a beginning and an end, and stories are woven on the plane of human time and mind. I live inside the human passions and the human fears, and the human gaze, and I missed all of them. Even the human heroine, is ostensibly human, and exists within the rules of the undying, and her desires are the desires of what will be and what was and are present and are absent. The world is foreign, and the awarenesses are foreign, and the texture of time is foreign, and there is no stable ground to grasp within the story. Not even a single piece.

There is a lot of hubris in attempting to reconstruct the awareness of undying and angels. Sometimes hubris enables humans to escape labyrinthes, to fly high, close to the sun, and sometimes hubris leaves them lost in the heart of a labyrinth.

Like in this book.

About The Author

Barbadian author, editor and research consultant Karen Lord is known for her debut novel Redemption in Indigo, which won the 2008 Frank Collymore Literary Award, the 2010 Carl Brandon Parallax Award, the 2011 William L. Crawford Award, the 2011 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature and the 2012 Kitschies Golden Tentacle (Best Debut), and was longlisted for the 2011 Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature and nominated for the 2011 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. Her second novel The Best of All Possible Worlds won the 2009 Frank Collymore Literary Award, the 2013 RT Book Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Awards for Best Science Fiction Novel, and was a finalist for the 2014 Locus Awards. Its sequel, The Galaxy Game, was published in January 2015. She is the editor of the 2016 anthology New Worlds, Old Ways: Speculative Tales from the Caribbean.


Author: Karen Lord

Publisher: Daw Books

Published: 2019

Pages: 304

Format reviewed: Physical