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Joan Riley Biography

(1958– ), The Unbelonging, Waiting in the Twilight, Romance, A Kindness to the Children

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: John Rhode to Jack [Morris] Rosenthal Biography

Jamaican novelist, born in St Mary, Jamaica, educated there and at the universities of Sussex and London. Her novels, dealing primarily with the experiences of women who have moved from the West Indies to Britain, are notable for their scrupulous realism and sensitive characterization. Her first, The Unbelonging (1985), is about an II-year-old girl, Hyacinth, who finds herself abruptly cut off from her exuberant life in the back streets of Kingston when her father summons her to Britain. The novel chronicles her struggle to adjust to ‘the gloom of inner-city life’. Waiting in the Twilight (1987) focuses on another immigrant, Adela, formerly a talented seamstress but latterly a grandmother crippled by a stroke, who looks back and assesses her hard life. Romance (1988), set in Croydon, is about two sisters, one romantically escapist, and the other realistically down-to-earth, and tellingly contrasts the imagined world of a ‘Mills and Boon’ romance with a real romance. In A Kindness to the Children (1992), Riley's most accomplished and complex novel, three women—a second-generation British Caribbean, a first-generation migrant, and a local Jamaican housewife—represent different facets of Caribbean reality. The tragic end of one of the characters is contrasted with the others' relative success to offer a kaleidoscopic view of post-colonial politics.

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