Roxanne Gay’s debut novel is the story of Mireille, a woman of Haitian descent, who is kidnapped when she and her American husband return to Haiti to visit her wealthy parents. Haiti, it turns out, is the kidnapping capital of the world. Mireille is held for ransom, ‘by a gang of fearless yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies it burned their very skin. . . .’
Mireille’s father, she knows, has always made a point of his refusal to negotiate with kidnappers. For thirteen days, while her father rejects ransom demands, she is held captive.
‘An Untamed State’ is both gripping and difficult to read. The graphic descriptions of the sexual and physical abuse Mireille suffers at the hands of her captors are haunting. As her days in captivity pass, Mireille loses sight of her own identity. Freed at last, she believes it is too late, she is already dead.
The complex characters are a strength of the novel. Flashbacks to Mireille and Michael’s courtship and to that of her parents allow us to understand better the situation they are now facing. Mireille’s father believes he has to save the whole family, not just Mireille. He tells the story of a colleague who paid out kidnapper after kidnapper until he was bankrupted. He needs to show that he will not be broken. There is a protocol to follow – a negotiator is hired.
Michael, Mireille’s husband, loves and cares for her, but is initially able to deal with the broken remains of his wife when she is finally released. Ultimately, it is Mireille’s relationship with Michael’s mother which is to prove most important to her. Gay clearly has a good understanding of the lingering effects of rape.
The novel paints a stark portrait of Haiti, a place of ‘so much beauty, so much brutality.’ One of the most shocking parts for me was the way in which bystanders watched passively as Mireille was dragged from her car in the street. Even when she escapes from her captors, she can find no help in the slum where she is held.
While the violence in the novel means that it is not for the faint-hearted, ‘An Untamed State’ is a feisty, intelligent and page-turning read.
I have been out and about talking about ‘Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing’ and still have a few events to go on the Gold Coast, Brisbane and Byron Bay (see below) so if you’d like to come along I’d love to see you there.
Thursday 26 February 2015
10:30 AM Event – Elanora Library, The Pines Shopping Centre Guineas Creek Road, Elanora QLD
This is a free event but bookings are recommended by phoning the library on (07) 5581 1671.
Friday 27 February 2015
10:00am Victoria Point Library, 7/15 Bunker Road, Victoria Point QLD 4165
This is a free event but booking are recommended on (07) 3884 4000
Thursday 12th March