Mr. Potter A Novel

Jamaica Kincaid

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

208 Pages



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Jamaica Kincaid's first obsession, the island of Antigua, comes vibrantly to life under the gaze of Mr. Potter, an illiterate chauffer who makes his living along the wide, open roads that pass the only towns he has ever seen and the graveyard where he will be buried. The sun shines squarely overhead, the ocean lies on every side, and suppressed passion fills the air.

Misery infects the unstudied, slow pace of the island and of Mr. Potter's days. As the narrative unfolds in linked vignettes, his story becomes the story of a vital, crippled community. Kincaid introduces us to Mr. Potter's ancestors—beginning with his father, a poor fisherman, and his mother, who committed suicide—and the refugees fleeing the collapsing world who press in on Mr. Potter's life. Amid his surroundings, Mr. Potter struggles to live at ease: to purchase a car, to have girlfriends, to shake off the encumbrance of his daughters—one of whom will return to Antigua after he dies and tell his story with equal measures of distance and sympathy.

In Mr. Potter, her most luminous, ambitious work to to date, Kincaid breathes life into a figure unlike any in contemporary fiction, an individual consciousness emerging gloriously out of an unexamined life.


Praise for Mr. Potter

"Kincaid's most poetic and affecting novel to date . . . [The author] has drawn a portrait of a figure infamous in West Indian circles but conspicuously absent from the literature of the region . . . [And her] prose [is] more emotionally charged, more repetitive, more reminiscent of Gertrude Stein than ever before."—Robert Antoni, The Washington Post Book World

"Kincaid conscientiously and expertly manipulates language the way a photographer adjusts a camera's lens, bringing her characters into clear focus and accentuating their profiles against their natural backdrop, a lush—and often perplexing—island milieu."—Liza Weisstuch, The Boston Globe

"Masterfully successful at getting at the heart of darkness in the individual, the community, and the world . . . Kincaid's most enduring talent is her ability to link one life to the web of connections that make up the world. In Mr. Potter she makes Antigua and her father the center of the universe and then brings the rest of the world to that small island . . . Once again Kincaid has brought true insight into family with Mr. Potter, a book that adds dimension to her earlier family narratives, My Brother, and Autobiography of My Mother. All are filled with compassion, understanding, and a determination to tell a story as honestly as possible."—Mary A. McCay, Loyola University, The Times-Picayune

"Triumphant . . . Exquisite . . . Both for reasons of appreciation and comprehension, the whole book tempts the reader to declaim it aloud, seeking clarity where language is intentionally scrambled and pleasure where the words are too lovely to remain unspoken. The practice of restatement and revision often means that ideas are stated three different ways in the same sentence, or something offered in one place as a fact is complicated by further revelations in another. The deft migration of a verb from one position to another or the cunning arrangement of commas and semicolons allows Kincaid to amass multiple meanings and to advance conflicting ideas."—Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, The Women's Review of Books

"Mr. Potter is sorrowful, almost warm, because [Kincaid] has set for herself the difficult task of trying to convey the despair and resignation of inarticulate inhabitants of a claustrophobic and lonely paradise. Mr. Potter is a fiction, because Kincaid says so, though this work, like so many of the best, strange, and challenging novels of the past two decades, falls between fiction and memoir."—Darryl Pinckney, The New York Review of Books

"Affecting . . . Lyrical . . . In writing this novel, Jamaica Kincaid gives voice to her own history, rescuing it from the emptiness caused by Mr. Potter's neglect. The novel is an anguished announcement that she will not accept it silently."—The Times Literary Supplement

"By seeking to understand her father and herself, her father's past and her own present, the narrator also struggles to come to terms with the complex and contradictory, at times overwhelming, fact of existence itself. The repetition in [Kincaid's] prose, the many-angled viewings, and the pauses in narration render the perpetual astonishment of the sensitive observer, as well as the discovery inherent in the process of writing. Even when Kincaid's prose is at its most lyrical, it's never gratuitous."—Gregory Miller, University of California-Davis, San Diego Union-Tribune

"Mr. Potter shares many similarities with her previous books: the setting of Antigua; the long, semicoloned sentences; the flourishes of postmodern playfulness; the deconstruction of colonialism and racism . . . The writing truly soars . . . Kincaid's lyricism ascends into the realm of the sublime, achieving the rhythmic and incantatory effect she's after and replicating a kind of oral storytelling via a written text."—Andrew Roe, San Francisco Chronicle

"As with all of Kincaid's novels, Mr. Potter may be read as a parable of colonial history . . . Mr. Potter portrays emotional poverty, reflected in often cruel, always sharp language. Kincaid's storytelling relies on repetition, building on simple phrases to create scene fragments and anecdotes . . . It gives Kincaid's story mythic heft, making Mr. Potter not merely a character, but an archetype."—The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Kincaid is a vibrant and mysterious poetic writer . . . To love in this slim little novel is the rich drumbeat of Kincaid's inimitable prose."—Orlando Sentinel
"She has always been a superb stylist, but in Mr. Potter, Jamaica Kincaid's prose takes on an exalted, almost biblical tone. The writing soars and sings . . . Kincaid gives us a complex portrait, told in soaring prose, of a powerful man with little in the way of accomplishments and of the poverty-stricken island he never managed to transcend."—Roger Harris, The Sunday Star-Ledger (Newark)

"Kincaid, with her gently rhythmic prose, has painted another searing portrait and has done so with typical brilliance . . . In narrating Mr. Potter's 'biography,' Elaine embraces her father, offering to him, to herself, and to the reader the beautiful gift of a life examined."—Susanna Baird, Boston magazine

"The novel is filled with turns of phrase that are almost chants, inviting the reader to read aloud in cadence. Repetitions rhythmically dance off the page."—Jean Nash Johnson, The Dallas Morning News

"Like the waves that lap Antigua's shore, words, phrases and images are repeated and loop back on one another. The effect is both hypnotic and memorable."—Gary Haber, The Tampa Tribune

"The novel's strongest quality [is] Kincaid's ability to intersperse her sensitive tale of a man humbled by life's misfortune with the acidic bite of a resentful narrator. There is, obviously, no simple life, no existence that avoids leaving its mark on the lives of others. Only a writer as skillful as Jamaica Kincaid could drive home this point in such an effective way."—The Fort Worth Star-Telegram

"What she's written, really, is a meditation on Antigua, the island where she was born, on fatherhood, motherhood, emotional cruelty. She captures moments of pure consciousness, isolating her characters, for emphasis, as only an artist can, stripping them of context, and then rebuilding their world before our very eyes: adding weather, color, song, pain and memory. This is a punishing, gorgeous book that gives life to an island, to its Middle Eastern refugees and its black business class, to its poor mothers and abandoned children . . . By the end, Kincaid has, magically, transformed the reader's consciousness."—The Baltimore Sun

"Like Kincaid's Lucy and Autobiography of My Mother, her latest is a meditation on the invisible bonds—the ties of family and island community—that weigh on her characters, and on the strains of history simmering below the plot's deceptively tranquil surface. Here is the recurring message beneath all the rhythmic run-on sentences: the saving power of written word. Which is, of course, the familiar leitmotif of all of Kincaid's mesmerizing work."—Time Out New York

"Astonishing . . . gorgeous . . . Kincaid is a fierce, idiosyncratic stylist, piling up emphatic sentences to achieve a mesmerizing poetry."—Paul Evans, Book

"Like waves, Kincaid's language keeps doubling back hypnotically, picking up details and nuances along the way . . . Conjuring his name repeatedly, she brings Mr. Potter into the light. In writing his story, Kincaid makes him unflinchingly real."—People

"Mr. Potter may be an illiterate taxi driver in Antigua, but the story Kincaid creates for him is as rich and complex as that of any aristocrat."—Library Journal

"As in her previous books, Kincaid has exquisite control over her narrator's deep-seated rage, which drives the story but never overpowers it and is tempered by a clear-eyed sympathy. Her prose here is more incantatory and hypnotic than ever . . . This is [a] taut and often spellbinding novel."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Jamaica Kincaid

  • Jamaica Kincaid was born in St. John's, Antigua. Her books include At the Bottom of the River, Annie John, Lucy, A Small Place, The Autobiography of My Mother, My Brother, My Garden (Book), Talk Stories, a collection of New Yorker writings, and My Favorite Plant, a collection of writings on gardens which she edited. In 2000 she was awarded the Prix Fémina Étranger for My Brother. She lives with her family in Vermont.

  • Jamaica Kincaid Copyright Kenneth Noland