Alert! The Guardian has conducted a curious decade-end literary poll, asking various literary figures in the UK their opinion of the noughties’ “best unread book”. Only one title from an African pen is mentioned: literary agent Victoria Hobbs names South African-born, Mauritius-based writer Lindsey Collen’s Mutiny as her top overlooked read.
Among the kinds of backhanded compliments a writer can receive, this probably counts as one of the least offensive (though it probably still smarts):
Mutiny was published in 2001. It was Lindsey Collen’s fourth book and, we thought, her break-out novel. She had previously won the Commonwealth Writers’ prize for the Africa region and been longlisted for the Orange. There was a sense that appreciation of Lindsey’s work was growing and we were getting somewhere – John Berger called it “a break-out and a breakthrough”.
Here the UK Independent‘s review of Mutiny, which is apparently partially based on Collen’s own experience of imprisonment:
Lindsay Collen is a South African writer who lives in Mauritius and whose second novel, The Rape of Sita, was long-listed for the Orange Prize in 1996. In her new novel, she acknowledges her own experience of being arrested and tried in Mauritius along with seven other women in 1981. Mutiny, with its global political analysis viewed through the prism of a women’s prison, could not be more timely. Here is both a compelling human drama and a finely wrought meditation on the impact of brutal economic values on a small nation.
Through her narrator Juna, Collen describes with vivid passion and emotional precision the experiences that lead to a mutiny at the Mauritius High Security Women’s Electronic Prison. The plot revolves around three women incarcerated in a cell, where Juna moves from despair to action through the intervention of various political dissidents within the prison system.
Mutiny was published in 2001. Biographical information on its author is scant, but there’s a short blurb at her publishers, Bloomsbury, for those who want to know more. Meanwhile, has any BOOK SA reader read the novel? Does it deserve the dubious distinction that the Guardian has bestowed upon it?
- Mutiny by Lindsey Collen
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Photo courtesy Bloomsbury