The Roar of Morning by Tip Marugg

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Translated by Paul Vincent

Reviewed by Karen Langley

Silvio Alberto ‘Tip’ Marugg is an author new to me, and one who has quite a small body of work. Of Dutch-Antillean descent, he was born on the Caribbean island of Curacao in 1923. Apart from a couple of years in Venezuela as a boy, he seems to have spent the rest of his life on his island, leading a reclusive existence. Only three novels were written during his lifetime, along with collections of poems and for much of his life he worked for Shell. “The Roar of Morning” was originally published in 1988 and has now been issued in a lovely shiny new translation by Yale University Press.

The book is narrated by an unnamed man, living alone on the island of Curacao in a remote house with his dogs and his whisky and his gun. Since a colourful article about Marugg apparently describes him in much the same terms, it’s hard not to conflate author and narrator! However, since Marugg outlived his character by a number of years, the similarities may only be superficial.

“I love the hushed quality of the island when nature has fallen asleep, a few hours after midnight when the immobility of darkness prevails. The leaves hang motionless from the trees like tired eyelids. The trailing braches of the milkwood trees, which during the day flirt with the wind and climb up the telegraph poles across the road, have now ceased their coupling manoeuvres and droop loosely like dead snakes.”

The story begins in a tropical Caribbean night; a man is awaiting the dawn, drinking his beers and whiskies and sitting with his dogs. It soon becomes clear that he is reaching the end of his tether and that before the morning he will have turned his gun upon himself. As he contemplates his end and watches the changes of the night, he recalls fragments of his past life: from young memories of living with his uncle and aunt, to his school days, through sexual awakening, to more recent experiences. One particularly striking sequence deals with a ‘moon wind sickness’ believed locally to be the result of a priest being struck down in the past, during which the man is treated by native medicine while experiencing violent apparitions.

Juxtaposed against his memories and contemplations are scenes of brutality; visions of the politics and violence of the island and the conflicts between the various factions on Curacao. Visceral images of a global apocalypse, biblical in scale, begin to appear and the destruction is presaged by a plague of death’s head moths. Meanwhile the narrator contemplates his end while the world apparently falls apart around him.

“Happy expectations of the future and fond memories of the past are both treacherous things. We are all criminals: half of us are already in prison uniform, while the acolytes are still in white cassocks. One man does penance for his sins, another still carries his misdeeds covertly around with him. We don’t know what’s in store for us and later we will never know what happened to us.”

“The Roar of Morning” is a beautiful and brutal book; the writing is remarkably evocative in places, despite the darkness and horror, and the resulting effect is a powerful narrative of disintegration and self-destruction. The narrator explores his past and his psyche, trying to make sense of his life, and it is debatable whether the events he describes are real or imagined. The narrative descends into a hallucinatory kind of montage as the man spirals out of control, his visions and memories becoming more extreme.

Marugg’s book has been compared to Malcolm Lowry’s “Under the Volcano”, with its mix of lyricism and alcoholic visions. However, the books are very different; Lowry’s is in some ways more expansive, with a wider canvas, whereas Marugg’s focuses on the small island location and the narrower confines of its narrator’s life experiences.

As “The Roar of Morning” comes to an end, the gun on the bedside table is calling to the man, and the reader can be fairly sure that he will make use of it as dawn comes. Marugg, though superficially similar to the narrator, lived until 2006 when he died, blind and alone, in his solitary home on Curacao. This short but intense read is one of the few works he left behind, and unfortunately it seems to be the only one of his books currently available in English; which is a shame, because on the strength of “Roar” he’s definitely an author worthy of further exploration.

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Karen Langley blogs at kaggsysbookishramblings and is much less fond of mornings than she used to be.

Tip Marugg, The Road of the Morning, (Yale University Press, 2016). 9780300207644, 144pp, paperback.

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