Friday, December 18, 2009

"Annie John" by Jamaica Kincaid

Summary:  A coming-of-age novel set in Antigua as Annie begins to mature and become aware of a widening gulf between her and her previously doting mother.

Musings: I teach an excerpt of this novel at the beginning of the school year, but I had never actually read the book myself.  It's a short read, but after finishing it, I'm not sure quite what to think.

One of the things that most befuddled me was my absolute inability to see a real person in Annie.  She seemed strange and foreign--not in a "person from another country" kind of way, but in a non-human kind of way.  Her relationships with her classmates and her mother, while not unusual, still felt odd to me.  I don't know how to describe it any better.

Annie's increasing distance from his mother and conflicting feelings of devotion and hatred I imagine are typical of many teenagers, but they also were confusing to me.  I've always had a good relationship with my mom, even as a teenager, so perhaps I just can't empathize with the situation.

Annie's mysterious illness which leaves her bedridden for months (?) signifies the book's leap into a kind of magical realism.  I assume there has to be a lot of symbolism there, but the cloud of confusion that followed me through the book didn't let up.

Kincaid has a unique style that is both straightforward and imaginative.  Her novel explores the ways in which mothers and daughters grapple for power and understanding while often failing to achieve both.  Nonetheless, I don't think it's a book I appreciated as a stand-alone read; it would probably work better in a literature classroom.


  1. Thank you for sharing your honest thoughts about this novel. I study Kincaid's's a part of my ongoing and eternal PhD dissertation. I'm fascinated about how people react to Kincaid's work. She pushes us to question our own concept of normal. I'm writing out of Puerto Rico where I teach English. Recently, I wrote about Kincaid and also Dominican cultural traditions. I would love to keep in touch through our blogs.

  2. Oh...did you know that Kincaid's mother is from the island of Dominica (which is not the Spanish influenced Dominican Republic)? We had a Caribbean Cultures conference there in November. It was fascinating.

  3. I like the way you described Kincaid as "push[ing] us to question our own concept of normal." I had expected to feel at ease with the novel, given my own literary background, and was surprised by how distant I felt. I think I'll need to read further on her work, particularly since I am teaching a excerpt of the novel myself. I'm especially interested in Caribbean literature, so I'll be sure to check out your blog!