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Amanda Smyth is Irish/Trinidadian. She completed an MA in Creative Writing at UEA in 2000. Her short stories have been published in New Writing, London Magazine, and broadcast on Radio 4 as part of a series called Love and Loss. Amanda was awarded an Arts Council Grant for her first novel, Black Rock.
Author Photo © Lee Thomas
From the exceptional author of Black Rock, Amanda Smyth’s Fortune is an absolute dazzler. Set in 1920s Trinidad, and based on real-life events, the novel is founded on exquisite storytelling. It’s measured in style, and panoramic in impact - though the writing is so finely accomplished its influence swells over time as the novel charts a universal story of desire and ambition, of love and lust, of all-but impossible battles with the external forces of nature. I relished every sentence, every considered word, every beat of a plot that pulses to the varied rhythms of its characters’ unsettled hearts. What’s more, it captures a nation on the cusp of monumental change - Trinidad’s earth-shattering shift to oil from its struggling sugar and cocoa industries. A chance encounter between handsome, charismatic Eddie Wade and Trinidadian business man Tito (lately down on his luck) leads them to hatch a plan to make their fortunes in oil. And the man who holds the key to their future fortunes is Sonny Chatterjee, a superstitious farmer whose cocoa estate is failing due to the abundance of oil oozing up through his soil. Sonny is reluctant to go into the oil business with anyone, and sceptical, as is his wife (“Who really need oil? Who want it? Not me, not you. You can eat oil?”), though she’s also angered by their escalating poverty. And so the two men convince Sonny, and they’re granted a lease to drill his land for a year. The very first meeting between Eddie and Tito’s wife Ada is charged with electricity. She’s a beautiful enigma, he’s like no one she’s never met, “he could have fallen out of the sky.” As the oil project progresses, the men battle sickness and set-backs until the black gold starts surging, as does the yearning between Ada and Eddie. Though ignorant of this, Tito unwittingly makes a premonitory statement, of sorts: “Ada has fire in her. A woman who has fire, if you love her, she’ll warm up your heart.” To which Eddie replies, “If you don’t she’ll burn down your house.” Tito laughs, “That’s exactly right, Eddie. She’ll burn down your house.” The way Ada and Eddie’s relationship buds from fascination, to lustful tension, to overwhelming desire, is exquisite: “Ada knew something was happening to her. The world was different. The hills were greener, the sky a painting of light.” A fatal accident on a neighbouring oil site causes Sonny to want to halt the drilling and sell up, but Tito and Eddie want to drill one more well before their lease is up. Enthralling and heart-stopping to the end, Fortune is a magnificent feat of fiction.
March 2010 Debut of the Month. As colourful as the country of which she writes, Trinidad and Tobago; as lusty as her protagonist, Celia, a girl who cannot see how she attracts men and suffers for the sex appeal she exudes. There is a lyrical lilt to the prose that sings through as Celia tries to make a life for herself. A lovely book. Comparison: James Scudamore (The Amnesia Clinic), Mari Strachan (The Earth Hums in B flat), Gaile Parkin (Baking Cakes in Kigali).