……….Books are pretty constant in shape and basic form but the stories inside them come in all shapes and sizes. Most of them I read are good to better than good, with the odd turkey thrown in! But sometimes I come across a book that’s just a real feel-good read – what I mean is that it’s not just the story itself, but the way the story is written that gives me pleasure. Redemption In Indigo is one of those unusual books in that the story is pretty good but the real delight in the book is the way the story is told. Or to put that another way Karen Lord is a even better storyteller than the good story she has to tell!!
There’s clearly a rich heritage in storytelling around the world and I tend to think it’s a very special, exceptional talent. I also tend to think that while all authors of fiction are storytellers, not every storyteller is necessarily an author! I say that because of a spectacularly good oral storyteller I heard when I first arrived to teach in England. The Primary School I worked in was having a book week – and this was in the late 1980’s when these things were new and in their infancy. The school had arranged for a storyteller to come and tell stories to our Year 6 classes. To be honest, I thought it might be a struggle to catch and maintain the pupils interest – I could not have been more wrong! The guy was an absolute genius called Hugh Lupton – his website is well worth a visit and includes samples of his magical storytelling (and books he’s written which maybe suggests I’m wrong and that every storyteller IS an author!) Anyway, in the late eighties I’d never heard of him – but today he’s one of Britain’s leading storytellers! When I saw him, he told a couple of warm up stories which were quirky, irreverent and absolutely engrossing. He had every pupil in the palm of his hand in seconds. From there he told the story of Gawain and The Loathly Lady – it was a master-class! You could have heard a pin drop – it was magnificent, memorable and unforgettable – I still vividly remember it 25 years later!
And it is that mastery of the storyteller’s art which is at the heart of “Redemption In Indigo” and that’s what I liked about it most. The story is based on a Senegalese folk tale, and I think it’s based in Africa – or perhaps the Caribbean where Karen Lord lives. It tells the story of Paama, a woman humiliated by her husband’s extreme gluttony who happens to be a wonderful cook and a wonderfully strong character! She’s given the power of the Chaos stick by an other-wordly being or god. The stick had originally been in the possession of another other-worldly being, the Indigo Lord. It’s taken from him for reasons revealed slowly through the book and given to Paama because the other-world beings / gods believe she is the kind of human being to be able to make wise use of the Chaos Stick. There’s only two flaws in the plan – they forget to tell her how to use it and the Indigo Lord wants it back! The story then unfolds of first the search for Paama and then the attempts of the Indigo Lord to persuade her to give it back. As with all good tales, the story is one in which Paama learns about herself and other people, in which the Indigo Lord learns about himself, other people and other, other-worldly beings and in which the reader learns a number of maxims and truths and sayings about people and about life. Along the way it throws into the mix plague, heroism, chocolate cake, a wonderful poet, a peacock, a pillow for reading dreams, the King Of Dark Waters and the Queen Of Ever-Changing Lands, among others! She stirs them all into the mix, in a kind of story-telling pot, and it turns out beautifully, almost as desirable and delicious as Paama’s cooking must be!!!
The narrative flows gently and easily throughout and the quality of her writing is absolutely brilliant. As you’d expect with a folk tale, it’s a fantastical flight of imaginative fancy throughout, populated by talking spiders, talking insects, beings with magical powers, humans with magical powers, characters who are at the extremes and some wonderfully clever and quite memorable sentences-cum-life-maxims!!!
The Trickster tried to process this, shook his head and returned to the issue of his inner struggle. “You have ruined my reputation, do you realise that?”
She looked at him affectionately. “You were ready for ruin, do you realise that?”
He shrugged, which can be a lovely thing to see when six out of eight shoulders are going at once.
One of the things I liked most about the book, was the very explicit role Karen Lord took as narrator of the story. She talks straight to you as reader and it really does help draw you into the story. It is expertly handled with a lovely balance of storytelling, wit, comment, talking to you as the reader and imagining how you as the reader are feeling or reacting to different parts of the story! She maintains it right to the end, which in itself is a really good ending, and as you finish, it really does feel that you’ve been told a story rather than you’ve read a book!
The characters are strong, well developed and always engaging. The core story of Paama, the Lord and the Chaos Stick is very good and well supported by a number of tangents that the story slips into before it ties it back up to the main narrative. I found it to be a very clever and in a way, a very charming book – that’s not a word I use often but that really is how this book felt to read. It kind of charmed me from start to finish and I liked being charmed by it!
I read Redemption In Indigo as part of The Readers Summer Book Club. This is exactly the kind of experience I’d hoped to get out of taking part – this is a book I wouldn’t have chosen myself in a million years – but I really did enjoy it – Karen Lord is a writer – or a storyteller – of real quality!