Year of Publication: 2006
‘Robert Bannerman, still happy to display his body in the privacy of his compound, walked on to the upper veranda of his house with a towel wrapped around his waist. Later on in life, he would put on weight, but for now his body still showed the benefits of having led an active life in England, where he had participated eagerly in most sports, making up for his mediocrity with fervor. In his opinion, his only personal sporting failure was that he had never learned to swim. The truth was that he was afraid of water. When he was a boy, he witnessed a childhood friend drown in the sea, which scarred him with the unwavering respect that comes from recognizing one’s uselessness in the face of a vast unconquerable. What a peaceful death once the waves had silenced the screams. Anyhow, it would be inappropriate for a man like Robert to be seen swimming in public.’ Chapter 1, Page 9.
The story mainly centers on the life of a fourteen year – old girl, Matilda, given to marriage at an early stage of her life. Robert Bannerman, a renowned Gold Coast Lawyer is the man who expresses interest in this young girl and does all it takes to marry her. Matilda, in this case, becomes the second wife to Lawyer Bannerman and so had to learn to live with his first wife, the complicated Julie.
When all was set and done, and Matilda was married to Lawyer Bannerman and which meant that she had become the second wife, the expected rivalry unveils itself between these women. Julie wanted to put Matilda at her rightful place; her place being the second wife who is supposed to be submissive. As young as Matilda was, she behaved as such, just like a young girl, pressured into marriage and who could not compete with Julie, the first wife in any particular way.
As the story unfolds, the reader might want to know why Matilda should be forced into this marriage or the question that why should Matilda be sent into marriage knowing very well that she would become a second wife. But the answer is not too far to fetch from the story. It was clear that Lawyer Bannerman was a prominent Lawyer in the Gold Coast who had attained the gains of education – good work, nice house, money, good living and so forth. Why wouldn’t the young girl from a poor home and who could not even speak English be influenced to submit to the marriage proposal from the prominent Lawyer Bannerman?
Once, at the time of finding out what Matilda makes of the news of the marriage proposal from Lawyer Bannerman, see what she says to her mother and Uncle:
‘But I am only fourteen… I want to continue with my school, I –’ Page 69.
Upon Matilda’s words comes her mother’s response:
‘Listen here, you ungrateful girl, you will be fifteen soon… I was not much older when I married your father. You are old enough to have children.’ Page 69.
Informing her first wife about the news of going in for a second wife, see what Julie says to Lawyer Bannerman:
‘’This is precisely what I hoped to avoid by marrying an educated man like you. Now you too want to behave like every other uncivilized man in this city.’ Page 73.
It was evidently clear that the two women could not move on as first and second wives to the same man. But what occurred to me along this line of thought was that why at all would Lawyer Bannerman decide to go in for a second wife if he knew very well that the two could not move on well. Didn’t he know? See what I mean here. When Matilda had cooked for Lawyer Bannerman and had sent the food to him, Julie said to her:
‘Your food will not be needed here today. You can take it back to where it came from. If he wants food from you, he will let you know.’ Page 150.
The story is not complete without the infusion of the story of the life of Alan and Audrey Turton. We come to learn about the challenges they face in their marriage and this makes the reader observe what goes on the part of Lawyer Bannerman and his two wives and that of the Turtons. It is interesting to witness what problems are at stake with the Turtons as Alan is not from the Gold Coast, instead, he is from Britain.
In as much as I enjoyed this story, I also had some problems with it. In the first place, I think that the story was overstretched and at most times I attempted to jump to the last chapter so as to end the reading of the book. Also, I had to jump from page 165 to 172 because of inconsistent or interchanged pages. I am wondering what I must have lost within those pages I had to jump although I did not bother to go back to it at the end of reading the book. In general, I do think this is a good try. Cloth Girl is Marilyn’s first novel and must be commended.