If I drafted a list of the works that influenced The Night of the Rambler, the result would likely resemble a compendium of the fiction, the drama, the history, music, and films that shaped my life during the time of conception and realization of the novel, and even long before that. More than authors, the list would include individual works by all sorts of writers and creators, from Arthur Schnitzler to Willie Colón, from Miguel de Cervantes to Wyndham Lewis or Mario Vargas Llosa (particularly his experimental novel, Conversation in the Cathedral). But if there is one author whose fiction determined, in some sense, the direction in which The Night of the Rambler developed, that is Earl Lovelace, whose influence can be sensed in the aesthetic and conceptual aspects of this novel.
Lovelace’s 1979 masterwork, The Dragon Can’t Dance, is one of the most powerful depictions I have ever read of life in underprivileged urban areas, insofar as it explores with phenomenal insight the emotional and psychological effects produced by this type of marginalization. The levels of empathy and understanding reached by the Trinidadian author in this work, however, are not used to justify the violence and the lawlessness experienced in the slums of Port of Spain; rather, Lovelace uses this empathy to humanize and dignify the existence of a portion of society which is both essential to the furtherance of the country as well as utterly disregarded by the ruling classes of that very society.
Lovelace manages to integrate the subject matter of his novel with his narrative style, often replicating the rhythm of the action in the structure of his phrases and merging the speech of his characters with the tone of his narrator, who fully exploits the potential of the Trinidadian dialect, or nation language. This integration of narrative and action, plot and style, was central to my original concerns regarding the efficiency of narrative techniques in fiction.
Additionally, Lovelace’s work often questions the established system of merit that is prevalent in Trinidad, whereby excellence is rewarded with the opportunity to leave the island (the periphery of culture, of course) in order to join the rat race in distant metropolitan centers. This tradition of export of talent necessarily results in the devaluation of anything or anyone who hasn’t left the country. Lovelace’s criticism of this situation in The Dragon Can’t Dance, in the later Salt, and in many other of his works, bring forward an argument of social responsibility in which he condemns self-pity; rejects the notion that the people of the islands are still victims of the colonial system and its legacy; and urges his compatriots to take pride in their heritage and take control of their future.
There is a political aspect to The Night of the Rambler, although it is infinitely smaller than that present in Lovelace’s fiction. However, a concerted effort is made throughout my novel to reassess the merits and the qualities of the history of the Caribbean in particular, and to question the relevance of historical accuracy at large. If any of the events narrated in The Night of the Rambler had occurred in one of the dominant centers of Western culture, they would be taught all over the world as great examples of prowess. As it is, they have been left to linger in oblivion, largely because the very people who have been affected by them have deemed them unimportant. Lovelace is, in large part, the seed of my desire to bring this issue to light, although we part ways in my loose interpretation of history, and what really “happened” during the 1967 revolution detailed in The Night of the Rambler.
Published in Akashic’s website on September 24 2013.