Golden Child is the story of a family from Trinidad – the native land of author Clare Adam, who left her home country to be educated in the US and now lives in London. The Deyalsingh family consists of 13-year-old twins Paul and Peter and their parents Clyde and Joy. They live in an area of southern Trinidad which one character describes as “all bush and bandits,” and while their cultural background may not be familiar to many British readers, their concerns will be. Clyde and Joy struggle to make ends meet, working hard to pay the bills, and their main focus is universal: how to do the best for their children.
In the first chapter we learn that Paul – a teenager who, it is clear from the outset, has a hugely different personality to his brother – has disappeared. It seems at this point that there is nothing much to worry about, save a reference to his apparent friendship with Sando, a man who is “over 30 years old and spends all his time at the panyard chatting up women and smoking weed.” Paul has potentially got himself in with a bad lot, causing another headache for his long-suffering parents and faultless brother.
“He’d better be in that nightclub,” says Clyde, as he drinks in a bar with friends on the night Paul goes missing.
A large chunk of the book, Adams’s debut, is given over to the twins’ lives before this point, and in particular the struggle Paul has to keep up with Peter, who excels at school and lives a straightforward life. He easily passes an entrance exam for a prestigious school and Clyde manages to convince the educational establishment to take Paul too, despite him having failed the test. Throughout the book, the family has low expectations of Paul, who is said to be “retarded” by his parents due to a traumatic birth which saw him briefly deprived of oxygen.
Despite the fact he is very evidently not the golden child of the title, it soon becomes apparent that Paul has other qualities. He is kind to his brother – the two are clearly very close, despite their differences – and he is also brave. We learn early on how the teenager once stepped up to a robber who broke into his family’s house in a bid to protect his mother and brother.
The Deyalsinghs have a large extended family, and, in a scene which will be familiar to any readers who have recently enjoyed a Christmas holiday cooped up with a whole clan of loved ones, Clyde complains about relatives who overstay their welcome on a visit: “They come to Clyde’s house most Sunday and public holidays; they arrive anytime in the morning that they feel like, and they’re often still on his patio at eleven o’clock or midnight.”
Such quotidian concerns are swept aside, however, when the narrative returns to the question of Paul’s disappearance, and characters who have previously appeared briefly as feckless and irritating annoyances suddenly take a sinister turn. Having been lulled into a false sense of security in the early part of the book, some of the events in the final third are shocking to read.
Meanwhile, the crux of the novel unfolds: family secrets begin to emerge and Clyde is forced to make the decision which no parent wants to make – to choose between his two sons.
Intelligently and subtly written, Adams’s novel tackles themes which will have global appeal, breaking the hearts of parents the world over. - Jane Bradley
Golden Child, by Claire Adam, Faber & Faber, 288pp, £14.99