Pauline Melville

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Pauline Melville (born 1948) is a Guyanese-born writer and actress of mixed European and Amerindian ancestry,[1] who is currently based in London, England. Among awards she has received for her writing are the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, the Guardian Fiction Prize, the Whitbread First Novel Award, and the Guyana Prize for Literature. Salman Rushdie has said: "I believe her to be one of the few genuinely original writers to emerge in recent years."[2]


Melville was born in Guyana; her mother was English, and her father Guyanese[3] of mixed race, "part South American Indian, African and Scottish".[4]

A professional actor before she became a writer,[1] Melville has appeared in films that include Mona Lisa (as Bob Hoskins' estranged wife), as Dora in The Long Good Friday. She also appeared in television programmes: as Vyvyan's mother in the BBC Television comedy series The Young Ones; as Yvonne in Girls on Top, among other roles.

Melville's first book, Shape-Shifter (1990), a collection of short stories, won the 1991 Commonwealth Writers' Prize (Overall Winner, Best First Book), the Guardian Fiction Prize,[5] and the PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Award.[6] A number of the stories deal with post-colonial life in the Caribbean, particularly in her native Guyana, as well as of some stories being set in London. Many of her characters, most of them displaced people from former colonies struggling to come to terms with a new life in Britain, attempt to find an identity, to reconcile their past and to escape from the restlessness hinted at in the title. Salman Rushdie described the collection as "notably sharp, funny, original...part Caribbean magic, part London grime, written in a slippery, chameleon language that is a frequent delight".

Her first novel, The Ventriloquist's Tale (1997), won the Whitbread First Novel Award,[1] the Guyana Prize for Literature, and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. In the book – which one reviewer characterised as "a unique look at the conflicts of ancient and modern ways"[7] – Melville explores the nature of fiction and storytelling and writes about the impact of European colonisers on Guyanese Amerindians through the story of a brother and sister.

Her 1998 collection, The Migration of Ghosts (1998), is a book of complex layered tales of physical and emotional displacement. According to one reviewer: "A magnificent sense of pacing is the first of Melville's skills that impresses the reader of this mesmerizing collection. The second is her gift for voices ... she has an amazing range, from West Indians in London celebrating carnival, to the self-conscious, resentful Macusi Indian brought by her literal-minded British husband to a wedding in London, to the irritable Canadian wife whose husband has been sent to Guyana for two years to serve as unofficial liar for a mining corporation. Magic realism is the label most readers and critics will paste on Melville's work ... it is an appropriate but incomplete description. The dozen stories spill over with musical chaos and sly humor.... The magic in Melville's eccentric tales is neither good nor bad, white nor black, but the magic of the teeming pluralness and the many possibilities of life."[8]

Her novel Eating Air, published in 2009, was called by The Independent "a virtuoso performance, playing with a gallimaufry of characters".[9]

Interviewed in 2010, she said: "Being a writer is like being a window-cleaner in a house or a castle where the windows are obscured by dirt and grime. Writing is like cleaning the windows so that people can see a view of the world they have never seen before."[10]

In November 2012, Melville delivered a lecture entitled "Guyanese Literature, Magic Realism and the South American Connection" in the Edgar Mittelholzer Memorial Lecture series at the Umana Yana in Georgetown.[11]

Prizes and awards[edit]


  • Shape-Shifter, London: Women's Press, 1990, ISBN 978-0-7043-5051-9; Pantheon Books, 1991, ISBN 978-0-679-40438-5
  • The Ventriloquist's Tale, London: Bloomsbury, 1997, ISBN 978-0-7475-3150-0; Bloomsbury USA, 1999, ISBN 978-1-58234-026-5
  • The Migration of Ghosts. London: Bloomsbury. 1998. ISBN 978-0-7475-3675-8.; Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2000, ISBN 978-1-58234-074-6
  • Eating Air, London: Telegram, 2009, ISBN 978-1-84659-076-4




  1. ^ a b c Geoff Sadler, Pauline Melville Biography,
  2. ^ "Pauline Melville", British Council – Literature.
  3. ^ Maya Jaggi (2 January 2010). "Pauline Melville profile". The Guardian.
  4. ^ Cloyette Harris-Stoute, "Pauline Melville: First Guyanese to win the Commonwealth Writers’ (Best Overall) Prize", Guyanese Girls, 11 November 2013.
  5. ^ Pauline Melville at contemporary
  6. ^ Pauline Melville page at Bloomsbury Publishing.
  7. ^ Mary Whipple, "Pauline Melville–THE VENTRILOQUIST’S TALE" (review), Seeing the World Through Books, 17 January 2011.
  8. ^ "Migration of Ghosts" (review), Publishers Weekly, 29 March 1999.
  9. ^ Stevie Davis, "Eating Air, By Pauline Melville" (review), The Independent, 2 October 2009.
  10. ^ Interview by Anna Metcalfe, "Small Talk: Pauline Melville", Financial Times, 12 July 2010.
  11. ^ (Video) Mittelholzer memorial lecture, Stabroek News, 30 November 2012.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]