Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Book of Obeah

Melody Bennet brings her grandmother’s ashes to be blessed and scattered in a Louisiana bayou, in accordance with her grandmother’s last wishes. But where ashes fall, secrets rise – and one of those is about a book which could change the world.

I first became aware of obeah after reading Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea. Two horror novels – Dean Koontz’s Darkness Comes and Graham Masterton’s Feast – also rely on aspects of voodoo. It was fascinating, especially the concepts of vévés and the deities involved, such as Papa Legba and Baron Samedi. I was looking forward to more of that in The Book of Obeah, by Sandra Carrington-Smith.

The book more than delivers when it comes to voodoo, but I’ll discuss a little more of the plot first. Her grandmother’s death leaves Melody nearly alone in the world, especially since her grandmother was the only person who knew that Melody sometimes sees things she shouldn’t – precognitive glimpses of unpleasant events. And yet Melody knows relatively little about her grandmother’s past, such as why her family fled the bayou.

When she arrives in Louisiana, though, a strange man approaches her and demands the book. Melody has no idea what he means, but during a voodoo ceremony to bless the ashes, she hears her grandmother telling her where to find the book. As she’s searching, two Catholic priests and a Cardinal arrive. They are also interested in The Book of Obeah, which combines religion and power.

A bit like Dan Brown, except with voodoo. One problem, though, is that Melody isn't the most active protagonist. For much of the story she travels to different places, talks to various people and reads books - first her great-grandmother’s diary and then The Book of Obeah. She was often confused and unsettled, not to mention a little too quick to embrace the beliefs of voodoo:

Melody was fascinated. The idea of God Energy being in everything and everyone made sense, and she desperately needed something to make sense.

It’s one thing to think that a religion has some intriguing beliefs. It’s another to feel that nothing else in life makes sense, hence the “desperate” need to believe in God Energy. The romance, which begins after the second half of the book, also felt underdeveloped.

On the other hand, the setting is atmospheric and very well done. Warm and steamy post-Katrina New Orleans comes alive, making me feel as though I was listening to jazz, tasting coffee and having the Tarot cards read. That and the author’s meticulous research into voodoo carried much of the novel.

The most interesting part of that religion, for me, is the symbolism behind the vivid and colorful objects and rituals. This book explained that in detail. However there were frequent jumps from past to present tense during such discussions, which were distracting.

…Catholicism was not viewed kindly; praying to saints is seen as idol worship.

Religious rituals have always disturbed her, as they seem to require people to beg of something outside of themselves. She believed Spirit was within, not external.

If those had been caught by an editor and if the heroine had a stronger personality, this would be an excellent read. The book certainly has a striking cover – what’s inside had the potential to be just as good.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this review. The book sounds like my cuppa tea as I've been reading about Voodou for some years now.

Would you say the book shows an honest view of the religion or the stereotypical Hollywood evil version?

Marian Perera said...

Definitely not the evil version! Voodoo came off as something that could help or harm, depending on who was using it.

I'd recommend it if you're interested in reading more about the religion.