23. ilb 06. – 16.09.2023

Pauline Melville

Is Pauline Melville related to Herman Melville, the author of ‘Moby Dick’? If she was, she wouldn’t utter a word about it as her own life story remains a well guarded secret. 

Thus, only fragments are known from her biography: her mother was English and her father came from Guyana.  She was also born here in the former British colony on the Atlantic Coast of South America, sometime during the fourties. In the eighties she played small roles in English television and film, for example alongside Armin Müller-Stahl in ‘Utz’, a filmed version of the novel by Bruce Chatwin with whom the author doesn’t only share a longing to be in distant places.

In 1990, with ‘Shape-Shifter’, her first collection of stories, she made her writing talent known and received the Commonwealth Writers Prize for the best debut.  Her stories are set in Great Britain, the Caribbean or in Guyana; her protagonists are in search of their homeland, their identity and a past which helps live the present. A fundamental unrest influences the stories with which Melville illustrates and reflects on the states of post-colonialism.  She may not be any relation to Herman Melville but there is a tie to the English romancier Evelyn Waugh, who in his diary of his Guyana travels, tells of an encounter with a certain Amy Melville. This discovery served as occasion for Pauline Melville’s first novel ‘The Ventriloquist’s Tale’ (1997) which won not only the Whitebread First Novel Award but was also translated into French, Dutch and Catalonian.  In Germany, the book appeared as ‘Der Bauchredner’ (1998).  In this novel, set in Guyana in the eighties, the literary researcher, Rosa Mendelsohn, at the same time the alter ego of the author, goes in search of people who Waugh met on his stay there in 1933. During her research she meets the Indian, Chofy and experiences for herself the clash of two cultures.  Melville artistically crosses over to a romance and adventure novel in her stories.

Melville’s art of story telling and a fascination for detail also makes her second collection of short stories stand out.  ‘The Migration of Ghosts’ (1998) has appeared in Germany under the title of ‘Mrs. da Silvas Karneval’ (2002) and illustrates to the readers the wealth of new experiences which have grown out of the meeting of Europe with distant parts of the world.  A seriously ill woman chooses Dante’s ‘Divina Comedia’ as accompaniment on her journey of suffering.  An old woman fulfils a dream of her youth to be at the centre of a flamenco act one evening.  The title giver, Mrs. da Silva, gets to know a Jamaican postman at the Caribbean carnival in the streets of Notting Hill.  Hemingway meets Márquez: Pauline Melville writes stories in which there is love and hate.  Life starts and passes away and this in a world which moves closer together.  Pauline Melville lives in London.

Dirk Naguschewski

© internationales literaturfestival berlin


Woman´s Press
London, 1990

Der Bauchredner
München, 1998
Übersetzung: Leonie von Reppert-Bismarck

The Migration of Ghosts
London, 1998

Mrs. da Silvas Karneval
Droemer Knaur
München, 2002
Übersetzung: Heide Lichtblau

Übersetzer: Heide Lichtblau, Leonie von Reppert-Bismarck