Gillian Slovo - Black Orchids (2 stars)

Gillian Slovo - Black Orchids

Evelyn wishes to be ‘rescued from the boredom of her life’ and it’s in Emil, the beneficiary of a rich Ceylon family, that she finds her non-white knight in shining armour. What seems like an exotic fairy tale in 40s Ceylon, however, is an altogether bleaker picture of rationed 50s Britain, where their wealth – and Emil’s skin colour – put the family at odds with society.

Although described as the quintessential English rose, there is little attractive about Evelyn’s character and her skewed romanticism often conveys charmless naiveté. This becomes yet more unappealing when the topic of racism is eclipsed by Evelyn’s own aggrieved sense of belonging.

Maybe it’s best to conform after all, is the confused message from Gillian Slovo, as the narrative winds aimlessly into the 70s and fixes on the equally vacuous first born, Milton. Slovo’s descriptions of Sri Lanka at least make Black Orchids a pretty flower, but one with no real depth.

Black Orchids is published by Virago

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