Book Review

Review of See Now Then by Jamaica Kincaid


I picked this book up because I saw it in the library and recognized the author’s name from a presentation I gave in graduate school. I think I set myself up for failure because I thought the book would be great because it was an author we discussed in my Harlem Renaissance class. However, I didn’t enjoy reading this book and I actually feel bad for saying that. For whatever reason, I thought this book was kind of boring.

I feel bad about that because I think this book qualifies as Literature (note the capital L). I am willing to admit that everything that is considered Literature I don’t necessarily like, or even understand why others might like it. As with any form of Art, it is not going to appeal to everyone.

I can, however, appreciate this book for what it is trying to do, which is implementing some very complex literary elements.

One literary element that this book employs is stream of consciousness. The first time I read a book written this way, I was very confused, but after reading several books over the years written in this style, I have learned to enjoy it. In fact, I think some of the books written this way would be horrible written in another style. If you want to read good examples of stories that benefit from a stream of consciousness narrative mode, read Mrs. Dalloway or The Hours. That being said, I don’t see how the story in See Now Then benefited from this mode.

A second literary device that this novel employed was screwing with the timeline. Typically this sort of thing accompanies novels written in stream of consciousness narratives, but again I don’t see how the story benefited from it. I think this was partly because the story didn’t grab me the way some stories do.

Even though I didn’t ultimately enjoy this book, I do think the author has done something challenging. The novel itself reads more like a poem than a typical novel. Kincaid employs repetition of the phrase “See Now Then” throughout the entire novel, and this adds a lyrical quality to the overall work.

The story is about a family that is not happy. The father doesn’t love the mother, if he ever did. The mother is lost in her own world, and the children are one dimensional creations named Hercules and Persephone. I found the character development lacking. I kept thinking there has to be more to this story. I read till the end though because I refuse to not finish a book if I start it (with one exception, but I’m not telling what book it is).

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