De Rightest Place by Barbara Jenkins

Review published on August 3, 2018.

In an attempt to finally come to terms with the fact that her boyfriend of seven and a half years, Solomon Warner, is not planning on returning from the steelband tour of Canada that he set off on some fifteen months previously, Indira Gabriel decides to make a list of her assets: young, good-looking, nice body, white (she can’t bring herself to say it aloud but she can write it down – being white is still an asset in Port of Spain), honest, car owner, and de facto pub owner. The pub, which he named De Rightest Place, had been Solomon’s dream, an attempt to prove to his (deceased) father that he could still make something of his life after dropping out of medical school, but Indira decides that it will be her salvation.

Of course, the pub has rather gone downhill in the months since Solomon left and so Indira is going to need all the help she can get to turn its fortunes around. Luckily, she has a bunch of disparate yet equally zany friends to call upon. There’s Bostic, Solomon’s best friend from childhood, who seems determined to preserve the bar in all its current glory: “the torn and scuffed leatherette upholstered chairs, their peeling, black-painted metal frames, the scarred, water-ring-marked tables, the cracked and grimy tiles on the floor, the headgrease-stained walls, the ceiling, dingy yellow with ancient nicotine smoke.” There’s also Fritzie, a feisty single mother and Indira’s most vocal supporter; KarlLee, a painter with a love life so complicated it’s amazing he finds time to paint; and I Cynthia, who notices everything and always has a tale to tell.

The blurb on the book jacket describes the pub at the heart of De Rightest Place as being like a Trinidadian Cheers and that is a very apt description – it’s a safe haven and the heart of the community for its regulars. Even in its most dilapidated state, the atmosphere of the place is warm and welcoming, and it offers a sense of security and structure to those such as Indira and Bostic who have been left reeling following Solomon’s departure. The pub is integral to the lives of all the characters, as is the spirit of Port of Spain and of Trinidad more generally. Indeed, in an interview in the Caribbean Review of Books in which she discussed the process of writing De Rightest Place, Barbara Jenkins commented on how being in Trinidad is central to her creation of both characters and plot and how the various sensations that surround her while she works – “heat, light, rain, mosquitoes, noise, police sirens, birdsong, plants, wind, bamboo creaking, human voices” – all contribute to embedding her within her chosen setting and helping to bring the experiences of her characters to life.

Indira is a complex, interesting character. Not always likeable, she is nevertheless rather charismatic and, once she has determined that she needs to begin her life afresh, she throws herself into rejuvenating the pub and, in the process, the lives of those who frequent it. The loss of Solomon, her great love as well as her ticket to finally feeling at home somewhere, has left her with an undeniable feeling of sadness that does permeate the events depicted in De Rightest Place, although her inherent cheerfulness and positivity serve to keep it at bay. She is also a very amusing character, both in terms of her dialogue and her eccentricities (for instance, her unfailing belief in the accuracy of horoscopes and increasing dependence on increasingly bizarre self-help books). Spending time with her throughout the book is a great deal of fun, as is getting to know her various eccentric friends and acquaintances.

De Rightest Place is a novel with a great deal of heart. It’s a funny, moving and ultimately uplifting story centred around the type of pub that every community should have as its nexus. Jenkins clearly loves and feels a deep affinity for her characters. Her descriptions of their lives, loves and hardships provide a real flavour of Trinidadian life in all its various guises.

Erin Britton 4/4

De Rightest Place by Barbara Jenkins
Peepal Tree Press 9781845234225 pbk Sep 2018

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