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Antoine Abel: Coco sec [Dry Coconut]

The format of Abel’s novel is similar to one we have seen in other novels from small island countries. It tells the story of an individual – in this case covering most of her life – and shows how she relates to the culture, economy and life of her country. The heroine of this novel is Céline Marchepied. At the start of the novel she is eighty years old and still working. Abel tells us both what happens to her in the present as well as gradually having her tell her own story. She was the daughter of peasants who worked hard but struggled financially. She married Julien, not by her own choice but on her parents’ orders. The couple had three children. One day he returned home and he had plant buds stuck to his clothes, that clearly indicated that he had not walked home the usual way. Céline challenged him and he walked out. It turned out that he was having an affair and he moved in with this woman (and later fathered nine children by her and, to Céline’s joy, did not have a particularly happy life.) She brought up her three children on her own, by doing laundry.

She first meets Ernest but prefers Philippe. They move in together but he is sadly drowned when his fishing boat overturns in a storm. Céline carries on with her life, working all the time. Her three children go off and she loses contact with them. Now that she is eighty, she is working for a couple but, according to the husband, all she does is eat and drink and does very little work. He wants to get rid of her, though his wife resists. Finally, the wife accepts that she should move into a nearby hut but, one day when his wife is out, he has her taken off to an old people’s home. She hates it there but looks as though she is to spend her life there, till Gaétan Prince comes and rescues her. Gaétan had been one of her charges when he was younger and had always remembered her with affection. He is now thirty and has made some money and wants to settle down with a wife. He takes Céline to his house and then selects a wife. We get a long drawn-out story of the courtship but finally he marries Théodora, a woman Céline wholeheartedly approves of. The story is not finished, as Céline lives with the couple, helps them with their son and watches as Julien gets his just deserts. She even gets to see her son for the first time in twelve years, as he wants her help with some black magic.

It is a fairly simple tale but well told and Céline comes across as a feisty lady, standing up for herself, making her own way in the world and, though she worries at the end if her life has been worthwhile (she finally decides that it has) she copes well with her problems, her men and the economic situation, all against a background of life in the Seychelles.

Publishing history

First published in 1977 by P. J. Oswald
No English translation