THE PLOT: The Last Warner Woman by Kei Miller is about a Christian Revivalist in Jamaica. Adamine Bustamante has the gift of warning. Floods, earthquakes and disasters; the spirit of God and Papa Legba helps her foresee them all, and invokes her to warn others. Born into a Leper community in the 1950’s, the story goes back and forth between her mother and upbringing, and her time as a revivalist. However, it’s when she travels to England that her gift of warning becomes more like a curse. And even after her trials and tribulations in the mother country, she has to wrestle with ‘Mr Writer Man’, who keeps telling her story wrong…
RATING: Four and a half stars, easy. Kei Miller is a master storyteller who can play with words artfully. Essentially this novel has two unreliable narrators: Adamine (the main character) and “Mr Writer Man”. They both tussle with the story, disagreeing on some “facts” and skipping over parts. This is an incredible feat of writing and expertly done. Miller has created an intelligent reflection on the nature of novels, and plays with our perceptions of truth and falsehood. To be able to pull this off demonstrates Miller’s talent, and I’ll definitely read more of his work.
GOOD BITS: Moving away from the literary tricks, this is simply a good story. The characters are interesting and compelling. Indeed, the device of “Mr Writer Man” meant the sections in Adamine’s voice shone through, as if a real person was whispering in my ear. The setting is rich as you can vividly imagine Jamaica in the 50’s and 60’s. There is a lot of mystery so the pacing is taut. And the plot has a compelling twist. Overall, each element of this novel is well crafted.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: OK, after all this praise you’re asking why I haven’t given this book five stars. It almost got there, but I don’t think I had enough emotional connection with the characters to justify a full five-star-stunner. In fairness, Adamine admits that she’s glossed over some parts of the story because she can’t (or won’t) remember and the omission of some details is a deliberate choice by the author. Buttttt…. I want more! More description of Adamine’s childhood in the leper colony, more scenes of Adamine in the revivalist church and her relationships with the other women and priests, more of Adamine’s life in England. In some ways, the pace was too fast and I would’ve preferred to linger on the key events in her life.
OVERALL: I read this for #ReadCaribbean2021 and I’d say it’s a perfect book if you want to read Jamaican literature. If you liked “Fruit of the Lemon” by Andrea Levy or “Mr Loverman” by Bernadine Evaristo, this book will grab you. The interesting narrative structure also means it would make it great for a book club discussion. So what are you waiting for? Grab a copy today!