Here at last is the eagerly awaited new novel from New York Times bestselling author Gail Godwin. Queen of the Underworld is sweeping and sultry literary fiction, featuring a memorable young heroine and engaging characters whose intimate dramas interconnect with hers.
In the summer of 1959, as Castro clamps down on Cuba and its first wave of exiles flees to the States to wait out what they hope to be his short-lived reign, Emma Gant, fresh out of college, begins her career as a reporter. Her fierce ambition and belief in herself are set against the stories swirling around her, both at the newspaper office and in her downtown Miami hotel, which is filling up with refugees.
Emma’s avid curiosity about life thrives amid the tropical charms and intrigues of Miami. While toiling at the news desk, she plans the fictional stories she will write in her spare time. She spends her nights getting to know the Cuban families in her hotel–and rendezvousing with her married lover, Paul Nightingale, owner of a private Miami Beach club.
As Emma experiences the historical events enveloping the city, she trains her perceptive eye on the people surrounding her: a newfound Cuban friend who joins the covert anti-Castro training brigade, a gambling racketeer who poses a grave threat to Paul, and a former madam, still in her twenties, who becomes both Emma’s obsession and her alter ego. Emma’s life, like a complicated dance that keeps sweeping her off her balance, is suddenly filled with divided loyalties, shady dealings, romantic and professional setbacks, and, throughout, her adamant determination to avoid “usurpation” by others and remain the protagonist of her own quest.
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Customer Reviews (30)
Hard to like main character and little plot
I really like Gail Godwin and have enjoyed many of her books. I grabbed this one off the shelf in my local library and expected an enjoyable and sensitive book. Unfortunately it was not the case. In addition to the lack of plot and flat narrative, I just didn't like Emma and couldn't figure out what about her was supposed to be interesting. She seemed to just walk through life, expecting to be famous, resenting not being important (she wasn't) and having as affair with a married man with no qualms. The setting and time period had such potential but it was not fulfilled in this book. Most disappointing.
There aren't too many books that I've read that I've disliked from start to finish.I'm reluctant to give up on a book--sometimes stories that start out slow come to a roaring finish.I was hoping for something similar when I started Gail Godwin's Queen of the Underworld.Was I mistaken!This book was absolute torture, and I hate admitting this as I generally enjoy Gail Godwin.Her Father Melancholy's Daughter is one of my very favorite books.
Emma Gant is fresh out of college when she gets a job as a reporter for the Miami Star.Fidel Castro has just taken over Cuba and Miami is being overrun by prominent Cubans who have lost everything to the Castro regime.This novel bounces around--characters appear and then disappear, loose ends dangle everywhere, the title character (The Queen of the Underworld) is AWOL, there isn't a single likable character and the entire book is just too painful for words.
What was even more depressing than The Queen of the Underworld is that it took me almost two weeks to read it.I'm very embarrassed for Gail Godwin and I can't understand why her editors would allow this book to be published.No wonder I'm seeing it for sale in our local dollar stores.
What a lot of interesting secondary characters! Unfortunately, the main character is pretty much annoying. An abusive stepfather gains our sympahy for the plucky heroine at first, but she's so clueless and chirpy--wow, look at me, folks, I'm having an affair! --we lose the sympathy fast and just keep waiting to see if she stumbles.
In the audio version, the narrator does a pretty good job with the various accents, but slips out of Southern a few times.
what a disappointment!!
Many other reviews summarize the book so I won't repeat everything here. Suffice it to say - it was very disappointing! I kept waiting for something to happen and when the book finally seemed to get really interesting, it ended - just ended - with no resolution, finality, anything!! A waste of time - could have been so much more.Don't buy it - borrow it or pass altogether.If I like a book, I keep it - this one I will sell to a used book store or donate to Goodwill.
Reviewed by Karen Morse
Bright-eyed, independent Emma Gant arrives in Miami in the summer of 1959 with the world at her feet.She has a married lover who'll show her the ropes, and a reasonably-priced residence orchestrated by a family friend, and an upwardly-mobile job at the Miami Star, the most important accessory for a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill journalism school.
Emma joins the Star's reporting staff at a tumultuous time, shortly after Fidel Castro enacted his First Agrarian Reform. Living in a hotel run by Cuban émigrés for Cuban émigrés makes the upheavals of Castro's revolución more than just news to Emma.Placing her in this context, the author seems to be drawing a comparison between Emma's situation and that of the Cubans.As Emma is struggling to figure out her place in the world and gauge her future success, so are her newly exiled neighbors.
The more one reads into the life history of the author, the more Queen of the Underworld begins to seem like a semi-autobiographical novel.Godwin herself graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1959 and spent a year on the staff of the Miami Herald before embarking on the world travels that sparked her literary career.
What is most curious about the novel is that it takes place over such a short period of time.The story of Emma's coming into her own, Queen of the Underworld is a window into what seems to be a key moment in Emma's development, one that may affect her entire career.Godwin, however, manages to squeeze an unbelievable amount of action into less than two weeks.Emma's life during the span of the novel is so full, it is almost surreal; as she herself recounts, "in one week and three days, I met a gangster walking a dog, sat behind a notorious boss at a funeral, became friends with [an] ex-madame [...], and helped two Cubans smuggle arms out of Florida" (331), and that's not even the half of it.
By contrast, the novel's ending is unsatisfying and somewhat abrupt.While Emma fantasizes about writing a novel, there is nothing (besides Godwin's own history) that gives any indication that Emma will become a novelist.The narrative ends with both Emma and the reader waiting on her future, filled with unanswered questions.
Godwin's characterization, however, is the novel's saving grace.Emma is amazingly sympathetic despite her naïveté and the fact that she seems to have no compunction about sleeping with another woman's husband (although her sexual relationships do seem to be at odds with her history of sexual abuse).More significantly, Queen of the Underworld is full of finely drawn secondary characters.One such character is Don Waldo Navarro, a prominent academic who fled Cuba with his memoirs sewn into his wife's skirt.A minor character, who could have easily been shunted aside after his grand entrance, Don Waldo is made real in Godwin's attention to detail:he swims breaststroke in the hotel pool "in billowing maroon trunks" (260) with "his leonine head erect" (259) and has the ability of seamlessly incorporating a nine-year-old Spanish-speaking girl into a English-language conversation: "the great educator's consecutive translations into Spanish on Luisa's behalf bore no trace of pedagogy.Don Waldo made it seem merely as though he suddenly chose to complete the rest of his discourse in another tongue" (272).
Godwin has written a number of other novels including The Odd Woman, Violet Clay, and A Mother and Two Daughters, each of which was nominated for the National Book Award.A career author, she published her first novel in 1970.Her papers are archived in the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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