Home > I read it all, memoir, non-fiction, recommended, reviews > Essays On Life (Volume I): Nicolette Bethel

Essays On Life (Volume I): Nicolette Bethel

November 18, 2008

In May 2003, Nicolette Bethel was approached by the then editor of the Nassau Guardian, Larry Smith, to write a series of articles for the newspaper. Bethel chose to write a series of observations about Bahamian life, drawing on her training as an anthropologist. Essays on Life is still published in the Nassau Guardian on a weekly basis, examining topics as diverse as orality, inequality, the arts, government, and culture.

When I first received this book for review, my heart sank. These essays on Bahamina life were first published in the Nassau Guardian and not only is this book not a genre I’d usually consider, but it’s a genre I felt little connection with. I know little about the Bahamas; I’ve never visited the country; and I prefer fiction to non-fiction, so I assumed that I’d find this book hard work. I was completely wrong.

The essays provide a fascinating insight into Bahamian life and culture. Their origin is sometimes a little obvious: they’re opinion-pieces, and so sometimes they are a little overstated for collection in book form. But that didn’t detract from their charm: it just changed the way that I read the book. Instead of reading it in a couple of long sittings I read them as they were originally intended to be read, just one essay at a time, and found myself looking forward to each new episode.

If I have any criticism at all, it’s for the way the limitations of column-writing have restricted Nicolette Bethel’s natural style. I’d really like to see her extend her scope a little by writing a few longer pieces which rely less on rhetorical sweep, and more on the subtle character observations that she does so well.

As for the errors: well. These essays were properly edited for publication, and it shows. I have a small issue with the formatting: there’s an extra line of white space between the paragraphs which isn’t usual, and which I don’t like—but it’s used consistently, and I won’t condemn this book on what boils down to a matter of taste. There’s an extra space before a hyphen on page 18, which is a little careless: but it’s the only mistake I found, and it didn’t lessen the appeal of this charming collection one bit. There might have been more errors but I can’t be sure: I enjoyed the book so much that my editor-mode switched off, and I repeatedly found myself absorbed by her apparently simple narrative style.

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  1. November 19, 2008 at 2:45 am

    Jane, thank you.I’ve found the extra space, and will be editing it for the next issue of the book.

  2. December 7, 2008 at 8:53 am

    Jane Smith? That name reminds me of Johnny Smith, the protagonist in Stephen King’s classic political thriller, The Dead Zone. That wuld b kool if sum1 submitted a novel 4 reeveew and this wuz tha 1st sentence and then you could just close the book and be done with it. But what if there were 14 mistakes in the first sentence, and then the rest of the book was perfect? Also, what if there was such a bad mistake, that it actually counted for two mistakes? Like if someone spelled cat with a w, or something.Anyways, I think your blog is cool and your review thing is a good idea. I would submit something, but first off I dislike the word “submit”. Second off (he said, as the grammatical foundation of the paragraph collapsed like the Tower of Babel)I publish my stories online, on my blog, and can’t be bothered to bind them with glue.B.

  3. December 8, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    Bless.

  4. December 8, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    Nicolette, You’re welcome, by the way, and sorry it took me so long to get back to you here.One thing I didn’t mention in my main piece about the book was your cover: I loved it! That photo is gorgeous: so evocative of the place you write about. Unlike many other self-published books, yours wouldn’t look out-of-place alongside mainstream publications, and you did very well with that too. Let me know if you ever decide to write something more personal, because I’d be thrilled to read it.

  5. April 5, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    Jane, Thanks again, especially about the cover, which is all self-made (though never again, I tell you).About being in contact again, that’s exciting to hear — god willing, as we say around here, I’m thinking about something at the moment. I shall keep in touch.All the bestNicolette

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