Simile haunts The Pacific Room. So many sentences begin ‘It’s as if ...’ that the phrase seems like an incantation.
Michael Fitzgerald writes that he agrees with Robert Louis Stevenson that ‘every book is, in an intimate sense, a circular letter to the friends of him who writes it. They alone take his meaning.’ For the reviewer coming from outside the circle, this book does not so much erect screens as exist within a lush, enticing forest of signs which seems indifferent to one’s presence. As Teuila, the Samoan fa‘afafine, confidently climbs to the summit of Mount Vaea in the dark, we are told, ‘For an outsider there is no hint of what lies ahead, so inscrutable is the dense foliage.’ One is aware that given time and multiple readings, the forest might become as familiar as it is to Teuila. On a first reading, the best option is to let the strangeness of the book seep into one’s consciousness and resist the temptation to seek clarification at every twist in the path.