by Eli Lambe
Hopkinson’s writing is enchanting. Her words wrap around you and inhabit you, they turn your skin to bark, the wind into a goddess, your body lifts and falls with the lines of beautifully crafted prose. To read her work is to be transformed, transported, transcended. Her first novel, Brown Girl in the Ring (1998), explored community, magic, and family in a Toronto “hollowed out” by white-flight and financial catastrophe.
Her second, Midnight Robber (2000), used language — particularly dialect — and mythology to imagine, from a Caribbean perspective, “what stories we’d tell ourselves about our technology – what our paradigms for it might be” and to bring together ideas of storytelling, colonialism and trauma. Since then, she has published several other novels and collections, all of which are thoughtful, accessible and fundamentally affecting, the most recent of which is the subject of this review.
Hopkinson rewrites, reimagines, reclaims. Every line and object is tactile, animate.
Falling in Love with Hominids (2015) is a short story collection filled with a radical hope, a radical imagining of possibility, each speculative work a celebration of human potential to survive, create, accommodate, and cooperate. Hopkinson rewrites, reimagines, reclaims. Every line and object is tactile, animate. Taking the classic tale of Bluebeard in ‘Blushing’, she twists the symbols of the wedding dress, the key and lock, into living, vital participants in the plot; she takes the sinister and runs with it, changing the dynamic of terror into something cycle-breaking, into a surviving wife and a couple connected in killing and mutual acceptance. Plant life mixes with animal life in this collection. We are transformed with the ferocious dryadic cherry-tree dragon girl in ‘The Smile on the Face’, spitting fire and power into the face of her would-be assaulter. We are addressed as the rat-orchid hybrid/plant-enthusiast’s dating service in ‘A Raggy Dog A Shaggy Dog’.
We watch in ‘Whose Upward Flight I Love’ as trees, thrashing in a storm, become bird-like, animal, bloody. There is a fluidity even a resistance, to categories of human, god, alive, plant, animal which links these narratives and creates possibility. The urban and the natural are blended and inseparable. Change is fundamental, transcendence is humanity, nothing is untouchable. Hopkinson performs “a paradigm shift” on The Tempest, arranging voice and reference to celebrate Ariel and Caliban, shifting the focus, blending and reclaiming Shakespeare through a Caribbean lens, mixing myths into the brew, making Caliban a frog-prince of the sea, Sycorax the storm-mother and put-upon granny, Ariel the seeking sister, teasing and tattling. Race and perception are examined together, prejudice is materialised in the transformation enacted on Caliban by his partners, and double-consciousness is enacted in both him, and his sister. The ultimate question is of identity – “who do you think you are” and it goes unanswered.
Change is fundamental, transcendence is humanity, nothing is untouchable.
Falling in Love with Hominids is not only a collection of beautifully written speculative prose, it takes the what-if-ness of the genre and expands it. Hopkinson asks what we can love about being human, what we can love about the relationships and communities we form, how we can celebrate each other, adapt to each other, and seek each other out. This collection, as with so much of Hopkinson’s work, is a vital response to the “Zombie Doctrine” of neoliberalism, to the enforced solipsism being shoved down our throats, and an argument against hegemony and against supremacy. It seems almost clichéd to state this now, but, in the wake of Brexit and Trump, with the continuing hopelessness that accompanies almost everything, we need stories like this, we need stories from marginalised voices, perspectives on the world that aren’t the ones responsible for fucking it up.We need stories about hope, community, and empowerment that critically address how the world is fucked up, and how it can be un-fucked. And, most importantly, why it is worth trying to unfuck.
Featured image © Nalo Hopkinson