The Edge of Eden
Helen Benedict
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Buy *The Edge of Eden* by Helen Benedict online

The Edge of Eden
Helen Benedict
Soho Press
336 pages
November 2010
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on The Edge of Eden.

Benedict’s unique story centers on a group of British ex-pats living on the exotic, picaresque Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean. For new arrival Penelope, the sun-drenched islands are far from the relaxing paradise that she had envisioned. "Shanghaied and bound into this strange and blaring land,” Penelope had little choice but to follow Rupert, her husband, when he was plucked from a lowly and ineffectual position at the British Colonial Office and assigned to produce a report on the Seychelles’ sputtering economy.

Ever since Rupert received this “infernal posting,” he has become hard and selfish, blind to the needs of Penelope and their two little girls, Zara and Chloe. Now safely ensconced in this exotic land, the children are left to their own devices, running wild and crazy while Rupert runs fingers through his woolly beard and marvels at his good fortune. There's a sense of freedom and excitement that has come from letting go of old strictures and the conventional rules of Britain.

Zara takes to the lifestyle as if she had been born here, befriending rusty-skinned Marguerite, hired by Rupert ostensibly as a guardian to the girls. But just as Zara's long hair transforms into a knotted mess and Chloe's pink skin becomes smutty with dirt, Penelope finds herself irritated by the endless equatorial heat. She is disappointed and enraged by her husband’s shameless flirtations as her stomach lurches uncontrollably from exotic curries served up by the ever-watchful Marguerite.

Selfishness and licentiousness reign, both Anglo and Native characters equally pernicious and self-serving. Their misguided love affairs take them to the brink, fuelled by a new, greedy world of sexual peccadilloes. Spending a gin-soaked afternoon in the company of her English peers, Penelope - doing her duty as a government wife - is thrust into dangerously adulterous territory when she takes advantage of the attentions of the shockingly attractive governor, Michael Toynbee, with his Etonian accent and perfect manners.

Amid bold palm trees, blue skies and mountains swathed in rolling mists, "a bright and spangling sun" holds sway over an evil eye where malevolent spirits exist to propel cruelty and cleverness. Rupert, previously refusing to think of himself as the philandering type, suddenly embarks on a series of sexual adventures with his secretary, Joelle Lagrenade. Exotic, passionate and luscious, Joelle is a woman both lustful and motherly who fully appreciates Rupert for who and what he is.

From Penelope’s dysfunctional past, to Rupert as he sails away on his island of exotic sexual desires, to the little changeling Zara, unkempt and un-English, speaking Creole in a mix of impudence and disobedience - piece by piece, love and “grigri” conspire to undo the luck of these people. As curry-scented kitchens exist beside clattering palm trees, and the chaotic markets of Victoria thrive, Benedict's tale rapidly descends into passion and dark obsession, strange spells indicating "dirty devil magic," the procurement of an illegal deathly black powder leading to poisoning.

Driven to Eden's edge and out-of-place in this lush, isolated island paradise, Penelope, Rupert, Zara and Chloe grasp frantically for a foothold in a rapidly transforming world. Benedict presents the Seychellois in all of their glory - often poor, put-upon and suffering but also proud by nature, even as they are forced to suffer the daily cruelties of the British who seek to control and manipulate them in a cruel, morally bankrupt world.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2009

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