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Black Orchids by Gillian Slovo

At university I studied postcolonial literature for my dissertation and a few of my modules, so any novel that looks at colonial rule in its various forms is ultimately coloured by this. However, when I read Black Orchids I tried to shirk those years of studying off to try just absorb the book, rather than analyse it!

Black Orchids looks at a time when colonial rule is coming to an end, an English family are planning on making the move from Ceylon (where the first part of the novel is set) back to England. The family has two female daughters: Marjorie who is due to wed Gordan and Evelyn, a self proclaimed ‘junior spinster’. Whilst living in Ceylon, Evelyn meets a Sinhalese man called Emil – who changes her view of the world and thrills her unlike anyone she has ever met before.

Despite warning from her mother and sister that Emil is not the best choice for a husband, Evelyn is determined and forthright, and marries him anyway. The rest of the novel follows Emil and Evelyn’s life in both Ceylon and England, including the various forms of racism and abuse that they receive as a mixed race couple.

I found Black Orchids to be quite a quick, easy read with a few chapters taking the flow of the novel off kilter. Sometimes chapters start and huge periods of time are skipped as well as the narrator’s perspective shifting occasionally, meaning sometimes it takes a quick flick back to realise who is talking.

I’d recommend this novel if you’re looking for a love story with a twist. The subject matter is quite dark and often surprising in the way it twists and turns, so it is definitely worth a read!

Have you read Black Orchids before? What are you reading at the moment?

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