Now it’s been filmed by local director Michael Mooleedhar, and selected to open this year’s Trinidad + Tobago film festival (ttff), which also opened with a TT -made film last year, a sign of progress and higher standards being attained in the local industry.
The script, by Dawn Cumberbatch, deftly captures the novel, beginning with its powerful opening evocation of the rich flora and fauna and other images of life in rural Trinidad: mangrove, scarlet ibis, fishermen pulling seine.
As in the book, though, this is a dangerous beauty. Even the bush of rural Mayaro half a century ago conceals some sharp thorns and venomous creatures, some of them with only two legs.
There may be no guns, or traffic, or oil rigs, but life there is less idyllic than it seems, said a media release.
The protagonist, the teenage Shellie “Shell” Lammy (Sudai Tafari) must undergo the rites of passage from youth to manhood, and finds along the way that some of them can only be endured with great pain.
For one thing, the little Lammy family has moved to an agricultural area of Mayaro from “down the beach” because his mother had to get a job there, now his father is too ill to work.
Shell is still in short pants, but he soon has to come to terms with the fact that he won’t be able to go back to school as planned; he must become an agricultural labourer, just what his father didn’t want for him, to help support the family.
Then there are troubles with girls: Shell is first drawn to their neighbour Rosalie, whose kindly-seeming father Mr Gidharrie offers him free produce from his estate. But then Shell meets Joan, a sweet and ambitious girl from Sangre Grande.
He thinks he’s made his choice, only to find to his shock that it wasn’t his choice to make.
Shell is at heart a good and sensible boy, but he’s also an innocent.
For him at any rate, the supposed new freedoms of adulthood are illusory.
Life in the country, despite its slow pace and lush natural beauty, turns out to be claustrophobic and complicated at the same time, and though this seems a simple story, it’s also profound and moving.
Shell’s ailing father is played by the veteran Che Rodriguez, and there are strong supporting performances too, particularly from Anand Lawkaran as the chatty Mr Gidharrie, there’s far more to him than meets the eye; and from Dara Healy as Shell’s mother. Vanessa Bartholomew makes Joan a likeable character, bright and sweet; as Rosalie Gidharrie, Nadia Kandhai takes on a more challenging role.
But the film rests on the shoulders of Tafari as Shell, and he succeeds in making the well-meaning young man appealling: utterly guileless, nevertheless he sometimes causes situations that prove hurtful to others. But if he has offended, karma certainly comes back to bite him as he tries to negotiate the difficult and sometimes downright devious world of adulthood in which he suddenly finds himself floundering.
Director Mooleedhar has made a visually striking and psychologically convincing film that holds the attention and is faithful to the spirit of a book that is dear to many, even though it’s more complex and more bittersweet than they probably remember.
The film will be screened on September 25 at 6 pm at MovieTowne San Fernando.
For more info visit ttfilmfestival.com