“The all-seeing eye and the all-listening ear, roving all over the island, stopping here and there to listen in on conversations.” This, as Jacqueline Bishop writes in her introduction, is what Hazel Campbell has been doing for almost fifty years – and there are few writers with such a sharp ear for how Jamaican people speak. But Hazel Campbell is much more than just a recorder. This is a writer who never tells the reader what to think, but challenges them to come to their own conclusions, but it is also clear enough that Campbell’s is a radical vision of Caribbean possibility combined with an apprehension of how reality so often falls short. Sharply observant of the inequalities of Jamaican society, her writing is also wholly unsentimental or judgemental over the way her characters so often make the wrong choices.
In the space between desire and outcomes, there is often the deepest and most painful kind of comedy. And for a writer who recognises how much of the Jamaican soul is rooted in the nation’s churches, what could be more natural than that the devil makes several appearances throughout the collection? But even Lucifer is no match for the sheer cussedness of Jamaican politics. In “Jacob Bubbles”, Hazel Campbell weaves a double narrative criss-crossing from the days of slavery to the years of political warfare between rival communities. As ever, there is no telling the reader what to think. She tells a story and leaves you to ponder. Which of the two Jacob’s is in truth most free? In what respects have the lives of Jamaica’s poorest black people really been emancipated?
This work is drawn from earlier published collections The Rag Doll and Other Stories, Women’s Tongue and Singerman and eight new stories. Across their range Jamaica emerges from colonialism to the present, years of struggle, violence but also of continuing hope in the people’s capacity for both endurance and re-invention.