Callie Browning’s ‘The Girl With the Hazel Eyes’ is a gripping tale, speckled with slight yet important social and political context and commentary.
Almost fifty years after Susan Taylor was exiled for her whistle-blowing novel, ‘The Unspeakable Truth’ and became the most famous book by any Caribbean author, she contacts a young writer to pen her biography. Susan is crotchety and unpleasant but Lia Davis is broke so she has no choice but to stay after giving up her job to write Susan’s biography. She has no idea why Susan would chose her, but there’s more to Susan’s story than meets the eye.
As Lia starts to unravel the reclusive author’s life, she realises that some things just don’t add up. Susan has been hiding a massive secret for decades and Lia is determined to find out what it is. The Girl with the Hazel Eyes is an endearing novel that tugs at your heart with its examination of love, lies and loyalty.
The story about Susan and Lia working together to write and publish Susan’s biography, touches on a panoply of aspects and themes. When Susan recounts her years as a child and teenager in Barbados, the author inserts slight discussions, or rather, mentions of the plague that is colourism and sexism, weighing down on society and its women in particular. We also get to explore the impact of religion on women’s lives, and how the patriarchal structure that is upheld by both male and female agents of society is hindering women in Barbados in developing the lives they envisage. Ultimately, though, the book moves on to demonstrate the importance of female solidarity and empathy.
Callie Browning also offers us intriguing insights into the independence movement in Barbados and the events that unfolded during that crucial period. Since I’m not very well-versed in the history of Barbados, I won’t be able to comment on the accuracy of the descriptions in the book, of course, but I am always in favour of a bit of history in a fictional tale, so I definitely appreciated that context, knowing that it’ll prove impressive, intriguing, and relatable to many readers.
I generally enjoyed the story, especially in the beginning and in the end. Towards the middle of book, we get a lot of backstory from Susan Taylor, which eventually becomes a part of the overall story, but it was quite as strong as the beginning and/or end to me. This may have had to do with me being impatient to know what’ll be unfolding in the plot – which in and of itself speaks for the gripping nature of plot. Ironically, though, once I had reached the end of the story, I wished it had been longer. I simply had not had enough of Lia and Susan yet…
Overall, I would recommend this book if you’re looking for an alternative storyline, a sensible and clear sighted view on and of Caribbean women, and a fresh and young voice by a talented author.
*Thank you to the author, Callie Browning, for sending me a free copy of her book without any strings / conditions attached.