Collen, Lindsey. MUTINY. 2002. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, UK.

Mutiny by Lindsey Collen: Book Review

This is another gripping story of women from the Mauritian writer of The Rape of Sita. If that book was in lush forest colours, this tense drama, set in a prison as cyclones approach, is stark black and white overshadowed by a sky of deep intense mauve of the impending tempest. The tension builds inside as the cyclone nears outside.

Three women are thrown together in a gaol cell. At first, suspicious and unfriendly to each other, they gradually develop friendship and support. They talk about their varied experiences; not too different from any women´s in or out of prison. And to relieve the tension and appalling conditions of incarceration, the women talk about food, exchange recipes and become connected to women´s lives everywhere.

Chapters are interlayered with quotes from the Criminal Code and the power of ´justice´ meted out to the powerless becomes a caricature of how governments and official in power can twist and warp the laws with impunity.

Juna is, supposedly, she thinks, inside because she tried to organize a union. But she is accused of drug dealing. I didn´t understand anything about my arrest. Neither reason nor procedure. Neither motive nor charge.
To me, it was a bolt out of the blue. I am a person who doesn´t understand very much about anything, come to think of it. Except for computer systems and what I call the common map of all human language—they hold few secrets for me‏everything else is very hard for me to come to grips with. Any number of things are bolts out of the blue to me. I feel hurled into the world myself. Just like they have hurled me into this cell. As if I´m a bolt out of the blue myself.

The older woman, thrown in the cell designed for two, Mama Gracienne, has made a confession under torture. Her crime? Murdering her daughter – but she is so confused she doesn´t know if or when she did it.

The third prisoner, is just a girl, Leila, who is imprisoned for being “out of control” whatever that means is never clear, except that someone did not like the way she behaved; she calls Mama Gracienne a loon because she seems so vague and confused.

There is a fragile unity among prisoners against the guards and police who have power over their every minute. They despise the “blue ladies”; they become a family in their small cell, united in their determination to defy authority.

What is usually seen as a disaster, an act of destruction, slowly emerges as the saviour of the prisoners, the opportunity for freedom. The cyclones become the possibility for mutiny, the realizations that there are greater powers than those of police and prisons.

“Three generations sitting on the cement floor of a prison cell waiting while a cyclone approaches….
And then I say a funny thing. I say: They won´t rob us of this cyclone, they won´t.”

The staff panic, doors are left open and prisoners dance and laugh their way to freedom. Juma continues to write their story with a mascara stick on pink toilet paper. A story like no other that could be a story of many women in many places. Lindsey Collen, I am waiting for your next story.

Filed under Book Reviews, Lindsey Collen