Cousins Cove is a real village, but the stories in Guy Kennaway’s comic novel are fiction, gathered during his first ten years as an idle British expat in Jamaica.
“If you travel to the parishes of St James, Hanover and Westmoreland,” he writes, “you will not find the characters in these pages, but will find their joy, friendliness, strength and defiance in the people who live there now.”
Anyone who hadn’t grown up in a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business could be forgiven for thinking such characters are unbelievable. I can assure you they are entirely plausible, though I’ve never been to Jamaica and cannot speak Patwa. It’s the nicknames, you see, tied to fantastic exploits on a local scale; they are a hallmark of small town life.
The people of Kennaway’s Cousins Cove are “lazy, irresponsible and incapable of taking the important things in life, like being a little mindful of what others thought of you, at all seriously.”
They’re filled with lofty plans they have no intention of attempting, but that doesn’t matter in a place so forgiving of low achievers:
“You could be the best, or at the very least brilliant, in your chosen field, without achieving a thing. It was enough simply to talk about it. Dreams were as highly regarded as actions; words were as valued as deeds. Everyone had a money-making scheme in the planning stage, and no-one felt any pressure to get it off the ground.”
Those who tried were nearly always undone in the process, like the guy who bragged about knowing a singer from Kingston and sold tickets for a concert without the star performer. He was caught in the end, but it didn’t matter because he got away with the cash and a girl, and built his legend — and his nickname — on the story.
The world of the Cove — a blessed place, “a little Eden made more interesting by the Fall” — is populated by wannabe drug dealers, resourceful beach prostitutes and rental dreads who nurse warm bottles of Red Stripe beer and seduce overweight tourist spinsters in Negril for a little extra cash and a good time.
Originally published in 1997, Kennaway has described One People as “a love letter to a little Jamaican fishing community”.
It is funny, endearing and deeply human, and it made me want to go there.
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