This in­ge­nious Do­mini­can novel takes in queer pol­i­tics, eco­log­i­cal dis­as­ter and pi­rates on the Span­ish Main

The Guardian - Review - - Fiction - Suzi Feay

Don’t be de­ceived by the slen­der pro­por­tions of this novel from the Do­mini­can mu­si­cian and au­thor Rita In­di­ana. Ten­ta­cle shapeshifts dizzy­ingly around three time spans and a loosely con­nected group of char­ac­ters, and takes on huge themes, in­clud­ing race and gen­der, the im­pact of tourism, apoc­a­lyp­tic events and eco­log­i­cal dis­as­ter.

Set in the fu­ture, the open­ing sec­tion fea­tures a maid called Acilde Figueroa, work­ing for an el­derly voodoo priest­ess with links to the tyran­ni­cal pres­i­dent. Acilde is sav­ing up for Rain­bow Brite, a onein­jec­tion gen­der re­as­sign­ment op­er­a­tion; boy­ish and slen­der, she has been mas­querad­ing as an un­der­age rent boy, un­til Eric, one of her tricks, comes up with a plan to fast-track her mas­culin­ity project. The seas around the is­land are a life­less soup due to a nu­clear catas­tro­phe di­rectly at­trib­ut­able to the pres­i­dent, and Eric has learned through his con­tact with the spirit world that he must nur­ture the Cho­sen One on be­half of the pri­mor­dial sea-god Olokun. It will be their job to travel back into the past and per­suade the pres­i­dent not to com­mit his act of nu­clear folly.

A dry, sar­donic tone an­chors the pulpy nar­ra­tive, with its bloody vi­o­lence, brutish sex and fu­tur­is­tic flour­ishes, all seasoned with bit­ter hu­mour and a hint of the oc­cult. The se­cond time frame, roughly ap­prox­i­mat­ing our own era, fo­cuses on pre­ten­tious art stu­dents dream­ing up per­for­mance pieces. The third, set in the Span­ish Main, in­tro­duces a group of sin­is­ter, quar­relling pi­rates.

Among the art stu­dents is the re­volt­ing Ar­ge­nis, lost in lewd and misog­y­nis­tic fan­tasies about his pa­tron’s wife, an ecol­o­gist com­mit­ted to pre­serv­ing the is­land’s co­ral and sea life. Ar­ge­nis, ma­nip­u­lated by Acilde’s su­per­pow­ers, finds him­self liv­ing a dou­ble ex­is­tence, on the one hand par­ty­ing and paint­ing, on the other skin­ning hides to trade for gold in a dis­tant cen­tury. In­di­ana pulls these strands to­gether in­ge­niously.

Whether we would re­ally want to change the past, given the op­por­tu­nity, is one ques­tion posed in this blast of a novel; what it is to act be­yond self-in­ter­est is an­other. Ten­ta­cle reads like Kathy Acker with a tighter nar­ra­tive grip. by Rita In­di­ana, trans­lated by Achy Obe­jas, And Other Sto­ries, £8.99

To buy Ten­ta­cle for £7.91 go to guardian­book­


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