Alison Rudd, Postcolonial Gothic Fictions from the Caribbean, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Posted by Sarah Post on February 11, 2011 in Blog, Reviews tagged with , ,

Alison Rudd, Postcolonial Gothic Fictions from the Caribbean, Canada, Australia and New ZealandUniversity of Wales Press, 2010.  ISBN: 978-0-7083-2211-6

Reviewed by Sarah Post, Lancaster University

Postcolonial Gothic is a topic that has been hotly theorised and debated in recent years, especially following the release of Andrew Smith and William Hughes’s seminal Empire and the Gothic: the Politics of Genre (2003).  A simultaneous rise in monographs dealing with national Gothic from the various countries examined in this novel (see Justin D. Edwards, Gerry Turcotte), as well as the plethora of journal articles and chapters in books, questions the need for another critical work along these lines, rendering it somewhat gratuitous and incapable of fulfilling the series’ aim of ‘promoting challenging and innovative approaches to the Gothic’ [my emphasis].  However, Alison Rudd’s work is distinctive in its approach to a certain extent: focusing solely on four British settler colonies (the Caribbean, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) that have not previously been submitted to comparison altogether, it neatly manipulates a discussion of similarities as well as cultural, geographical and historical particularities in the works and nations considered.

The abundant critical output regarding the relationship between postcolonialism and Gothic has stifled Rudd’s voice somewhat in her introduction and conclusion, as she finds little else to add to the field at large, meaning that the outside chapters read as a web of pieced-together quotations, and she herself runs the risk of becoming one of history’s silenced participants.  As she echoes, the postcolonial Gothic is not just another meaningless sub-genre; rather, the relationship between the two fields is intrinsic as the logical way of articulating the legacies and traumas of the absent presence of colonialism.  The specific theoretical concepts that the critique largely works around are Bhabha’s notion of the unhomely and Kristeva’s idea of abjection, as useful intersections between postcolonialism and the Gothic.

What makes Rudd’s work unique is the emphasis on settler-invader colonies, as distinguished from colonies of occupation: these are places where histories collide, jostle and displace each other.  However, apart from some quite general links between the different nations’ literatures, there is little in the way of a theoretical approach to justify her inclusion of the four countries , the justification of which would have given the work more impact on the field at large.  Where this critical work thrives is in the specifics and close readings of the various texts, as Rudd ranges through novels, short stories, poetry and film.  As a postcolonial critic, Rudd is ever wary of ‘Minding the Gaps’ (the title of the conclusion) and rooting all of the criticism in specifics, but there is a failure to develop a general hypothesis that would be necessary to get a sense of postcolonial settler-colony Gothic as a cohesive sub-genre; there is nevertheless a very sophisticated, diverse and interesting study of specific texts.  The book is arranged into chapters focussing on the four nations, yet it is at the same time sensitive to both local and national concerns and to the voices of indigenous and non-indigenous authors, as well to the different relationships that the nations have with the former colonising power.

Beginning with the Caribbean, Rudd examines the figures of the duppy, the zombie and the soucouyant as explicitly linked to the slave trade and to postcolonial identities fraught with doubling and schizophrenic splitting.  The chapter is attentive not only to colonial legacies, but also interrogates present systems of exploitation that have replaced the old ones, turning her critical gaze from colonialism and slavery to tourism, neo-colonialism and economic systems that link past forms of oppression with its contemporary counterparts, indicating the relevance of gothic as a way of disrupting any linear sense of history that would suggest colonialism has indeed been surpassed or supplanted.

Moving on, the chapter devoted to Canada links back to the Caribbean chapter through shared legacies of unstable identities and cultural schizophrenia, whilst differentiating from it by a ‘haunting sense of absence’ (70), or an absence of ghosts, as the characters populating the novels are allegorically searching for national meaning and a former moment of national unity.  The discussion dips between settler and First Nations writers, as well as relationships between the many ethnic and racial groups in Canada.  The wilderness of the north as well as more urban locales are considered, as Rudd engages with differing strands of gothic, in a discussion that once again proves more interesting in its variety and eclecticism than in a general overview.

The Australian chapter focuses on the evolution of the mythical ‘Bunyip’ from its Aboriginal origins through its colonial taming to its position as a current pop-cultural icon: ‘It has become a postcolonial monster, often linked to places that Aboriginal people avoid and about which white settlers are silent, serving to conceal the “darker facts about colonisation,” sites where massacres of Aborigines by colonizers occurred’ (113).  Concerns with innocence and guilt are succinctly expressed in the figure of the lost child, which is often used as a national allegory.

Finally, a discussion of New Zealand Gothic renders it as ‘psychosexual, rather than supernatural’ (135).  Like the other chapters, this engages with both settler and indigenous forms of writing, as well as looking at any parallels or crossovers, in this case between the Maori and the Pakeha.  Rudd suggests that New Zealand’s oeuvre, in comparison with the other nations’ discussed,  is more concerned with abjection of the self and repression, whether due to colonial silencing (of the Maori) or Puritanical repression (of the Pakeha), than with hauntings by external ghostly manifestations.

The conclusion sets up the conflicting tasks of the novel: ‘Joining the Dots, Minding the Gaps’, and whilst the general task is too preoccupied with minding the gaps, specifics of gender, geography and culture are interestingly interlinked, even if the links do seem more transient and incidental than cohesively theorised.  However, the textual analysis is insightful and interesting and the strengths of this work undoubtedly lie in its specifics.  Postcolonial Gothic Fictions will be most attractive to the scholar, as an informative and interesting aid to a close reading of the various texts.

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