The Edge of Eden

( 2 )

Overview

"In 1960, when her husband, Rupert, a British diplomat, is posted to the remote Seychelle Islands in the Indian Ocean, Penelope is less than thrilled. But she never imagined the danger that awaited her family there. Her sun-kissed children run barefoot on the beach and become enraptured by the ancient magic, or grigri, in the tropical colonial outpost. Rupert, meanwhile, falls under the spell of a local beauty who won't stop until she gets what she wants." Desperate to save her marriage, Penelope turns to black magic, exposing her family to the

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Edge of Eden

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Overview

"In 1960, when her husband, Rupert, a British diplomat, is posted to the remote Seychelle Islands in the Indian Ocean, Penelope is less than thrilled. But she never imagined the danger that awaited her family there. Her sun-kissed children run barefoot on the beach and become enraptured by the ancient magic, or grigri, in the tropical colonial outpost. Rupert, meanwhile, falls under the spell of a local beauty who won't stop until she gets what she wants." Desperate to save her marriage, Penelope turns to black magic, exposing her family to the island's sinister underbelly. Ultimately, Penny and her family suffer unimaginable casualties, rendering their lives profoundly and forever changed. Helen Benedict's acerbic wit and lush descriptions serve up a page-turner brimming with jealousy, sex, and witchcraft in a darkly exotic Eden.\

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Not since Lord of the Flies has a novelist written with such perceptiveness about the potential for harm that lurks within the innocence of childhood.”—Paula Sharp, author of Crows over a Wheatfield

"A wonderful novel and a true page-turner, a vivid story."—Joan Silber, author of The Size of the World

“Reminiscent of Evelyn Waugh in its biting satire and Somerset Maugham. . . . A book that both moved and surprised me until the very last word.”—Mary Morris, author of Revenge

“An armchair traveler's delight, Benedict's novel is an amusingly poignant look at the British abroad in the spirit of Evelyn Waugh.”—Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly
Benedict (The Lonely Soldier) chronicles a year in the life of a foolish but surprisingly sympathetic British family that relocates to the equatorial paradise of the Seychelles, located between India and Africa. In 1960, Rupert Weston accepts a post in the remote British colony without consulting his wife, Penelope, and his decision isn't well received. Trying to adjust to life on the island chain, Penelope turns to Marguerite, the family's kind and trustworthy local servant, for help with daughters Zara and Chloe. She soon realizes that the Seychelles are a “dumping ground for incipient failures” and their wives, who turn to alcohol and adultery for entertainment. Weak, malleable Rupert is soon seduced by the cunning Creole Joelle Lagrenade, but Penelope won't give up her husband without a fight. As the children run feral, Penelope asks Marguerite to show her grigri, Seychelles magic. She consults local witchdoctor Monsieur Adonis, while Joelle turns to Madame Hélène, a fortuneteller, and their combined magical efforts culminate in near tragedy and certain loss. An armchair traveler's delight, Benedict's novel is an amusingly poignant look at the British abroad in the spirit of Evelyn Waugh. (Nov.)
Library Journal
In the 1960s, a government transfer brings the Weston family from Britain to the Seychelles, beautiful islands in the western Indian Ocean whose inhabitants speak French Creole and whose culture leans intensely on a belief in black magic. Unfortunately for Rupert and Penelope, what had been a happy marriage begins to falter in this exotic environment, even as daughters Zara and Chloe begin to flourish. In particular, eight-year-old Zara is enamored of the local witchcraft, with its reliance on spells and curses. When bright and spunky Penelope begins to realize that Rupert is seeing another woman, she sinks further into despair. Disliking her local British compatriots, she confides in Marguerite, her wise, shrewd Seychellois housekeeper, who also acts as the children's nana, and befriends an interesting American couple there to do research. VERDICT Benedict, an author of both fiction and nonfiction (Sailor's Wife; Virgin or Vamp), offers distinctive cross-cultural insights as well as a cadre of satiric and fascinating characters, and the result is a story that is both touching and humorous. Highly recommended.—Maureen Neville, Trenton P.L., NJ\
Kirkus Reviews
Earthly paradise turns a British marriage hellish in this self-conscious, psychologically insecure novel from Benedict (The Opposite of Love, 2007, etc.). There's plenty of sin in Eden, in the form of the British Crown Colony of the Seychelles, mainly populated by the impoverished descendants of slaves. Minor Colonial Office employee Rupert has been sent to report on the economy of these Indian Ocean islands, a posting that requires the reluctant uprooting of wife Penelope and daughters Zara and Chloe. The novel opens with a sea voyage in 1960. Rupert, who "did not consider himself the philandering type," flirts with another woman while Penelope is felled by seasickness; toddler Chloe, victim of her eight-year-old sister's bullying, goes missing but then reappears without explanation. A pattern of inconsistencies and reverses continues on the island. First Penelope, previously happily married and faithful, has a grim affair with the governor. Then Rupert succumbs to his secretary Joelle, a strikingly lovely local woman who is both manipulative and sincerely affectionate. She eventually succeeds in breaking up Rupert's marriage, then gets pregnant. Witch doctors and grigri (island magic) feature prominently as Zara plots to reunite her parents, and Joelle uses spells to drive Penelope back to England. Shifts of motivation dog the sometimes farcical story line until the novel turns darker, as the grigri finally claims a victim. Despite moments of lyricism, more sensational than subtle.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781569478585
  • Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 11/1/2010
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 1,143,482
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 23, 2009

    The Edge of Eden

    Once you start The Edge of Eden, you will not be able to put it down. Zara is one of the most complex and compelling characters in all of fiction. At eight years old, Zara is deeply curious, open to the world and full of fun. But there are moments when she seems almost possessed by an impulse to be, not just mischievous but even cruel-especially to her little sister, Chloe-an impulse that leads to her fascination with grigri, the magic practiced by the inhabitants of the Seychelles, the islands where her parents bring her to live. At the same time, however, Zara wants only to do good, and to help keep her family happy and together. The struggle between good and evil within her, and particularly the complex consequences of her attempt to use grigri to help her family, are emblematic of the moral struggles of all of the main adult characters in this thoughtful, funny, tragic and wise novel.
    The bulk of the action in The Edge of Eden concerns Zara's parents, Penelope and Rupert Weston, who move to the Seychelles-tropical islands in the India Ocean-in 1960 when Rupert becomes a minor functionary in the British colonial government there. The Westons' marriage is already in trouble at the start of the novel, thanks, in part, to Rupert's infidelity at home in London, but more profoundly because of the traumas both Westons suffered as children during the Second World war, traumas that have left them peculiarly desperate for love but unable to negotiate human intimacy. (One of the many virtues of this novel is that it illustrates how vast historical and social phenomena-war, colonialism, the British class system-shape the lives of individual men and women.) Not long after their arrival in what would seem to be a tropical paradise, Penelope strays into a brief, comically rendered affair with the colonial governor of the islands, and Rupert falls deeply in love with Joelle, his secretary, for whom he ultimately leaves his family.
    Penelope is another brilliant creation. At the start of the novel, she seems little more than a superficial and narcissistic upper class British housewife, but as she struggles with her domestic crises and with her own weaknesses, and as she becomes ever more deeply involved in the culture of Seychelles, she becomes ever more humble, wise and, ultimately, strong-even as she is helpless before the machinations of fate. The novel gives us many vivid and fascinating glimpses into the lives of ordinary Selchellois, especially through the story of Maguerite, the Westons' housekeeper, who is initially so critical of her employers and of Penelope in particular. One of the most amazing scenes in the whole book is when Marguerite takes the skeptical but desperate Penelope up into the mountains to see a bonhomme du bois-the master practitioner of grigri-whom Marguerite hopes will help charm Rupert back to his family.
    While The Edge of Eden contains many moments of bitter comedy and fabulistic wonder, ultimately it is a deeply sobering and intelligent portrait of a collection of well-meaning human beings who are helpless before the consequences of their own actions. Like Chekhov, Benedict shows a compassionate understanding of every one of her characters. But she pulls no punches. The novel's wrenchingly realistic denouement will continue to elaborate within the minds of her readers long after they have put this heartfelt and fascinating book down.

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  • Posted September 20, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    intriguing historical thriller

    In 1960, the Colonial Office informs lowest tier British diplomat Rupert that he is being assigned to the French Creole speaking Seychelle Islands in the Indian Ocean. His wife Penelope is outraged with the assignment's location and Rupert's blithely ordering her that she and their two daughters accompany him. On the sea voyage to the isolated Crown Colony, Penelope becomes sea sick while Rupert flirts with another female so ignores his two children as the eight year old Zara bullies her three years old sibling.

    Upon reaching their destination, Penelope feels like an outsider even with her family, but not with the Colonial Governor. Her children take to the island "paradise" as if they lived there all their lives. Rupert focuses more on his native secretary Joelle instead of the economics report he is to develop or his family. When the marriage collapses, Zara turns to the local witch doctors for a love spell to reunite her family while now pregnant Joelle turns to the same grigri magical practitioners to send Penelope back to England without her Rupert. Desperate to save her marriage and family, Penelope also pleads with the black magical users for help.

    This is an intriguing historical thriller that readers will enjoy though wonder what the three females see in Rupert, which is one of their two constants (the other being each turns to grigri), as the women's inspirational muses seem to change with each calamity. The story line is fast-paced while also hyperbolizing satire to make a point about clashing civilizations. THE EDGE OF EDEN is an engaging psychological suspense tale as the audience wonders who will be the last female standing on the Seychelles and will Rupert be at her side.

    Harriet Klausner

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