The Lady of the Night, contrary to what your first association might have been, is actually a flower. The evergreen shrubs are common to the Caribbean Sea and are mostly famous for their sweet powerful scent, something like a great wine, complex and delicious. On the positive side, these flowers tend to change colour as they age, from light purple to cream and then gold, and they emit an intoxicating fragrance that intensifies at night. In fact they emit almost no odour during the day hours but from sunset to sunrise they become extremely active. On the negative side, The Lady of the Night tends to be poisonous and is considered weed (wtf?) in some countries. To survive, this flower needs warmth and sun (well, who doesn’t), a rich, well-drained soil and enough water during summer.
I was told that there is little value added in reading books from islands and weird countries. Come on, dude, they most probably don’t have a library or a bookstore, and are still spreading stories through the old-fashioned way of word-of-mouth. This is our typical developed country way of thinking and I refuse to succumb to it. Even East Timor (wherever this might be located) is not going to escape my list.
Antigua and Barbuda sounds like a place you would go to enjoy yourself – seaside, palms, cocktails, skinny tanned men, you get the picture. In fact, it might be exactly like this. Antigua and Barbuda consists of two big islands (surprise, named Antigua and Barbuda) and several smaller ones. It is located between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean and it is a former British colony (although Elizabeth II is still the queen; I would never get these complex international affairs). Nevertheless, in addition to the wonderful beaches I imagine the twin-island nation has, it also has literature, and a very fine one to be honest.
Ladies of the Night is a collection of short stories by Dr. Althea Prince, a professor born in Antigua and currently residing in Canada. Set both in Antigua and in Toronto, Ladies of the Night is about women – in all of their variety. The first short story, which also gives the name of the collection, is rather unorthodox. It introduces us to the life of women we tend to look with disdain at. Miss Peggy and her mother have been whoring (author’s words) ever since they could remember. Prince offers an insight into a particular part of the life of women we all would like to ignore as non-existent.
The short story collection then goes on to portray different (more conventional) parts of women’s lives. Women as mothers and women as wifes. Women acting as men, having the job, house and car figured out, but not the life. Women cheating and women being cheated on. I am far from being feminist (and so is Prince’s work) and yet the majority of the collection in fact deals with the problem of infidelity and how people (and women in fact) react to it. I must say I have given the topic of infidelity a great amount of thought. And I have come to my own conclusion, which of course is rather unacceptable to most. Human beings were not born to be perfect and therefore they have not been born to be faithful. Fidelity has been put on a pedestal as the ultimate virtue, while in fact it is rather unattainable for the majority of humanity. I know I sound cynical and I would very much like to believe in the happily ever after concept but I think it is very rare. It happens of course, I am not saying that it doesn’t, but if in fact we cheat or we are being cheated on, as long as it is a one-off thing, as long as no love is involved but just a random satisfaction of animal instincts, I say there is nothing that wrong with it and we should just deal with it the best way we possibly could. Leave or stay, whatever you do, just don’t dwell that much on the subject. The person who cheated on you didn’t dwell on it either.
Back to Althea Prince’s women. They witness their husbands kissing another woman in front of their eyes, sleeping with their best friend, or having affairs with at least five women at once. Some of them leave; others decide to stay on. Some scream and fight; others pretend nothing has happened. Some take the kids and go; others continue to cook, cook, cook, and wash, wash, wash, and wait, wait, wait. Whatever it is the decision, I am not here to judge and neither is Althea Prince. I realize this review might turn away any potential self-respecting man from reading Althea Prince, which was not my intention in the beginning. These short stories offer no judgement and no accusation whatsoever. They are about women (and we deserve something about us, don’t we) and about how they deal with a whole range of emotions – love, pain, bitterness, hatred, despair, happiness. Whatever it is, sometimes they (I) tend to make the good decisions, sometimes they (I) tend to make the bad decisions and sometimes they (I) have nothing left to do but laugh at their own lives. Althea Prince’ Ladies of the Night is both humorous and brutally honest. Without taking herself or her characters too seriously, the author explores relationships truthfully and without any redundant sentiment. When it works, it works. When it doesn’t – stay and don’t complain or leave to find something better.