Friday, May 22, 2015

Cereus Blooms at Night by Shani Mootoo

by Matt Beaudry

While Cereus Blooms at Night is most definitely an interesting read and well structured, I do not think it would appeal to a lot of people. The plot is engaging and has a good mystery element; an elderly woman everyone dismisses as crazy brutally murders her father and sets her house on fire. Instead of being committed to a prison, Mala Ramchandran is sent to a nursing home, with only Tyler, her male nurse looking out for here. Tyler and Mala are both outsiders in the community. Tyler is marginalized for his sexuality and his profession, while Mala is feared and misunderstood. It is through their isolation that the two begin to develop a relationship. Tyler shows support and understanding, and Mala returns it. The relationship that develops is heart-warming and well written, and as it forms Tyler learns more about Mala and slowly reveals her story and what drove her to murder her father.

One of the biggest strengths of Cereus Blooms at Night in my opinion, is the prose. Mootoo delicately weaves vivid description, believable vernacular, and stirring character voice. It reads quite well, never feeling too lofty or dense. The biggest turn-off would have to be the pacing. While the initial setup is intriguing, it takes a while for conflict and development to develop. This was most likely deliberate, as the beginning astutely establishes the culture and the characters. After page 70, though, the plot gets moving and becomes more engaging. Another aspect of the novel that could be a turn-off are its themes. The book deals heavily with sexuality and gender identity. The symbolism for the themes can seem esoteric, and such themes might evoke indifference. Overall, I definitely enjoyed the book, but it is a heavier read that requires analytic thinking and consideration of uncommon themes.

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