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.Set in Colonial West Indies in the 1950's, "Black Rock" centres on Celia d'Abadie, a sixteen year old girl living in Black Rock, Tobago with her Aunt Tassi, her twin cousins and her Aunt Tassi's predatory and vicious husband Roman. Celia spends her life avoiding Roman as much as possible and focussing on her studies, determined that one day she will be a success and will go to England and find her father. Her mother - Aunt Tassi's sister - we are told died in childbirth.
However, on the day of her sixteenth birthday, Celia's predictions about Roman's evil nature come true and she has no choice but to flee the home she has known, escaping to Trinidad with the vague idea of finding her mothers other sister and starting a new life. Celia doesn't get as far as her Aunts house after falling ill, and ends up as a nanny at the Rodriguez famiy home. Celia soon begins a passionate affair with Dr Rodriguez and lands herself in more hot water, unable to escape.
Celia's story is a powerful one, I was immediately drawn to her from the first page and enjoyed her journey through out the book. The tropical setting of Trinidad and Tobago, really adds to the general feeling throughout the book which is of stifling passion, heat, seduction and desire. The way in which the backdrop is described and used to enhance Celia's feelings and position is really breathtaking and one of the most enjoyable aspects of the story.
The actual storytelling is also superb and it is obvious that Amanda Smyth is an excellent and gifted writer. The story is told by Celia and the style in which it is written is spot on. Smyth always remembers that that Celia is a sixteen year old girl, and her thoughts and feelings match her age. I also enjoyed how her character developed through the changes going on in her life. In Tobago, Celia is a naïve girl, aware that Roman is a bad man but unsure how it will manifest. Celia describes emotions and things around her with such simplicity and clarity that it is a joy to read.
The scene where he takes advantage of Celia is done with tact and simplicity, always remembering that Celia is still a girl, unsure what is happening. This scene in particular was particularly heartbreaking and well written and was the turning point for the story. Once this event occurred, it is clear there is a change in Celia, so very slight but her tale takes on a more weary quality which again has some heart breaking consequences. The tone in which she shares her story is slightly hardened, but what she goes through is still that of a young girl/woman who is experiencing life for the first time. Her first real experience of love with another man makes the writing still slightly naïve really evocative and utterly selfish at times, still making the book compelling and believable as well.
The story itself is a good one, but I felt that it faltered a little in the middle, and as a result, I lost faith in Celia a little bit. For most of the story, Celia has had a tragic life, and it seems everything that happens is not going to end well for her. Dr Rodriquez is an important character in this part and is part of the reason why I lost faith in her. Her relationship with him changes her in so many ways and she is forced to grow up quite quickly with the fall out of it, losing all her innocence and some of her likabilty for me. I have already mentioned that by the second half of her story, and her "new life" in Trinidad she becomes selfish through falling in love and this is how her character becomes a bit spoilt in my eyes. She ends up playing between two men; one that loves her unconditionally and one that desires her physically. Unfortunately, she is in love with the wrong one and in the process hurts the other character deeply. Although this is a realistic turn of events and believable for the story, my like for Celia's character was scarred by how easy she found it to use the other character in the story and therefore it took away the power of her character overall.
Having said that I cannot fault the power that this book had over me and I really commend how well Smyth had the perfect tone over Celia's young character. Her writing is fresh, evocative and really imaginative at times. However, I think that there were definite areas which could have been improved on. The middle section of the book really suffered for me, dwelling too much on Celia's obsession with Dr Rodriguez which made me turn off of Celia as a strong character. I also felt that the ending lacked a bit of power. There are some surprises as well as some obvious answers to Celia's quest for her father but I felt that the story went out with a whimper instead of a bang which wasn't what I was expecting. The writing started off so powerful and it is a shame that Smyth didn't manage to carry on this momentum throughout. Still, I can see that this author has massive potential and skill to give the book world much more! I'd be more than happy to read another by her in the future.