I had been intrigued by Claire Adam’s debut novel, Golden Child, since its publication. There is very little literature set in the Caribbean – one of my favourite regions on earth – which I have found readily available to date, and thus I was pleased when I found a copy of the quite delightfully designed hardback in my local library.
Golden Child is set in Trinidad, and deals with the disappearance of a thirteen-year-old boy. The book’s blurb does not give a great amount away; it simply says that its protagonist, Clyde, has to come to terms with what it means to be the father of twin boys, and is made to discover ‘truths about Trinidad, about his family, and about himself.’ Whilst I enjoy familial sagas and mystery novels, and was intrigued by the blurb, I found the novel itself very difficult to get into.
The descriptions within the novel were not as I was expecting. Rather than drawing attention to the lush landscapes and tropical weather of Trinidad, I found Adam’s prose rather plain. For instance, when Clyde begins to go and search for his son, she writes: ‘Shorts and slippers are no good for that bush across the road. Before, when Clyde was small, he used to go in there barefoot: by daylight you can easily pick your way along, avoiding ant-hills, sharp stones, prickers and whatever else. But it’s a long time since he’s been in there, and also – who knows what will be out now, at night? Snakes, frogs, agouti, all the night-time creatures, or spirits, or whatever they are.’ There is so little beauty within the novel, even with regard to the natural world.
When I examined the thoughts of other readers on Goodreads, I found that Golden Child has very mixed reviews; some have absolutely adored it, whilst others have either abandoned the reading process, or given it just one star. This is, of course, markedly different to the reviews adorned on the book’s cover, which laud it variously as ‘intensely moving’, ‘quietly powerful and compelling’, and draw comparisons between Adam’s writing and that of ‘icons of her tradition like V.S. Naipaul’.
To me, Golden Child felt like something of a missed opportunity. The novel did nothing to draw me, as a reader and observer, in; rather, I found its characters two-dimensional, and its settings rather drab. The dialogue between characters is dull and repetitive, and the pace is plodding. So little atmosphere and tension have been built, which I find peculiar for a novel which sees itself as a mystery, almost a thriller. There is a real lack of emotional depth here, and too much superfluous detail; Adam focuses more on what characters are wearing and drinking than how they feel. There is very much a ‘tell, don’t show’ mentality in place, it seems.
I read several chapters of Golden Child, but found myself reluctant to return to the novel whenever I put it down. The story did nothing to draw me in, and I could not get on with Adam’s very matter-of-fact writing style. I did stop reading before I found out what happened to the missing teenager, but a mixture of disinterest and the hint at disturbing elements which other reviewers mentioned put me off. I am sure that there will be readers who really get on with this novel, but I, alas, am not one of them.