Longlisted for The Women’s Prize 2022, This One Sky Day by Leone Ross is a wondrous affair, brimful of light and life. Set on the imaginary Caribbean archipelago of Popisho, a place where magic is perpetually afoot, it follows a momentous day in the life of its inhabitants. Unrest lurks in many forms, including meteorological, as the stories of a silver-fingered healer and ex-addict chef entwine in a magical realist novel of love and grief, dosed with a spike of political satire.
‘Everyone in Popisho was born with a little something-something, boy, a little something extra.’
That ‘something-something’ is a supernatural ability or ‘cors’. Cors range from the rather unimpressive blessing of extra teeth or limbs to the truly magnificent gift of being able to flavour food with the palms of your hands.
This happens to be Xavier Redchoose’s gift, magically seasoning away with hot jack pepper, cocoa seed and mint leaves in his role as ‘macaenus,’ chef extraordinaire of the isles. On this particular day, as he prepares for the wedding feast of the Governor’s daughter, Xavier’s past rises to meet him, the melancholic ghost of his dead wife, the itch of a previous addiction, and Anise, the one that got away.
Anise is a healer, dispensing healing energy via silvery bubbles from her fingertips. Her customers frequently leave their secrets with her, along with their ailments.
‘She did daily checks for them tangled in her hair. Dusted and swept and took them out in the backyard, letting them float into the night air.’
Anise is en route to her husband’s workplace, preparing to confront him with suspicions of infidelity. His treachery is, she’s sure, connected to the four miscarriages she’s suffered, her infertility impervious to magical intervention.
There is a skittish energy on the streets today, a febrility that brings to mind the moments ahead of an electrical storm. Before this 24-hours has passed, each man, woman and child on Popisho will have experienced some serious mayhem.
A novel of abundance, This One Sky Day employs an extensive cast of characters and some fantastical imagery. On these remarkable islands, butterflies form an ever-present kaleidoscope, just ripe for plucking out of mid-air and munching, in pursuit of a gorgeous intoxication. Their dark twin is the moth. Addictive and lethal, like smack to the butterflies’ champagne, the moth threads its way through the story, along with the inevitable shadows that lurk beneath the island’s paradisal surface.
In the best tradition of magical realism, Ross weaves social critique into the story. Her Popisho is also a place of political corruption and regressive attitudes, highlighted in one spectacularly odd scene where the women of the island suffer a collective ‘genital accident.’ Their vulvas become loose, fall out and cause consternation all round, not least because not every woman wants hers back. As the nation’s vulvas continue their startling cameo appearance, Ross has some feminist points to make.
A sprawling novel that could perhaps have done with a trim from the editor’s magic scissors, this playful, sensuous novel is a delight.
This One Sky Day by Leone Ross is published by Faber & Faber, 385 pages.