In May 2003, Nicolette Bethel was approached by the then editor of the Nassau Guardian, Larry Smith, to write a series of articles for the newspaper. Bethel chose to write a series of observations about Bahamian life, drawing on her training as an anthropologist. Essays on Life is still published in the Nassau Guardian on a weekly basis, examining topics as diverse as orality, inequality, the arts, government, and culture.
When I first received this book for review, my heart sank. These essays on Bahamina life were first published in the Nassau Guardian and not only is this book not a genre I’d usually consider, but it’s a genre I felt little connection with. I know little about the Bahamas; I’ve never visited the country; and I prefer fiction to non-fiction, so I assumed that I’d find this book hard work. I was completely wrong.
The essays provide a fascinating insight into Bahamian life and culture. Their origin is sometimes a little obvious: they’re opinion-pieces, and so sometimes they are a little overstated for collection in book form. But that didn’t detract from their charm: it just changed the way that I read the book. Instead of reading it in a couple of long sittings I read them as they were originally intended to be read, just one essay at a time, and found myself looking forward to each new episode.
If I have any criticism at all, it’s for the way the limitations of column-writing have restricted Nicolette Bethel’s natural style. I’d really like to see her extend her scope a little by writing a few longer pieces which rely less on rhetorical sweep, and more on the subtle character observations that she does so well.
As for the errors: well. These essays were properly edited for publication, and it shows. I have a small issue with the formatting: there’s an extra line of white space between the paragraphs which isn’t usual, and which I don’t like—but it’s used consistently, and I won’t condemn this book on what boils down to a matter of taste. There’s an extra space before a hyphen on page 18, which is a little careless: but it’s the only mistake I found, and it didn’t lessen the appeal of this charming collection one bit. There might have been more errors but I can’t be sure: I enjoyed the book so much that my editor-mode switched off, and I repeatedly found myself absorbed by her apparently simple narrative style.