Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “At the Bottom of the River” as Want to Read:
At the Bottom of the River
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

At the Bottom of the River

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  1,358 ratings  ·  147 reviews
Jamaica Kincaid's inspired, lyrical short stories

Reading Jamaica Kincaid is to plunge, gently, into another way of seeing both the physical world and its elusive inhabitants. Her voice is, by turns, naively whimsical and biblical in its assurance, and it speaks of what is partially remembered partly divined. The memories often concern a childhood in the Caribbean--family,
Hardcover, 96 pages
Published December 1st 1983 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1983)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about At the Bottom of the River, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about At the Bottom of the River

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.77  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,358 ratings  ·  147 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of At the Bottom of the River
Raul Bimenyimana
Beautiful short stories that have a dream-like quality to them. Mostly an exploration of mother-daughter relationships and relations to home. Kincaid's writing where every punctuation and word are part of the intricate work is wonderful discovery. Strange how reading her feels like sighing, that sigh after a nice cold drink on a hot day. In admiration of how she is able to achieve so much with such few words. ...more
Abbie | ab_reads
3.5 stars

My first read for #abreadsaroundtheworld this year and I travelled to Antigua & Barbuda with Jamaica Kincaid!
At the Bottom of the River is a collection of intertwined short stories, eight out of ten of which deal with mother-daughter themes, and the daughter’s struggle to free herself from the dominating power pf the mother, as Kincaid often draws on her experiences with her own mother. More than anything, this collection made me want to read her longer works where she no doubt delves
A short collection of short stories assigned over a short period of time for a class that, really, any class is far too short if you cut out the expectation of excess labor plugged into calculation of units and really consider the true pedagogy at hand, all of which is not my specialty if my concurrent read of Joseph and His Brothers is anything to go by. And yet it worked, marvelously enough in certain pieces to instigate a resolution of mine to not coddle the shorter works out of a supposed aw ...more
It was great to finally read Girl, the story that is like a thread through all of Kincaid's writing and one she continues to talk about today.

I enjoyed all the stories, though prefer he style in the long form, where we have time to settle into it, it requires more concentration in the short form and sometimes rereading to get into the flow.
May 05, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction

Jamaica Kincaid is a word witch, a sentence sorceress. At the Bottom of the River is a collection of her short stories in the form of prose poetry. It is composed of stories that first appeared in The New Yorker and The Paris Review between 1978 and 1983. My three favourite stories in the collection are “Girl,” “In the Night,” and “My Mother.”

“Girl” is a list of a Caribbean mother’s instructions to her daughter on how to perform household chores and behave like a “lady”:

“Always eat your food in
May 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As I listened to Edwidge Dandicat read Wingless , I was not sure what to think. It's definitely beautiful. It sounds like a abstract poem about a girl, her youth and some strong feelings she has at a young age towards herself, women and her mother especially. I did enjoy listening to this work but feel I may comprehend it's depth more by reading the written version. I'll quote a few words that Ms. Dandicat gave in regards to this piece.
Edwidge Dandicat on Wingless: "It's poetry bleeding into
This was a very short audiobook on hoopla. Very lyrical and beautiful. I highly advise listening to the audiobook if the option is available.
“All manner of feelings are locked up within my human breast and all manner of events summon them out.” (p47) I read about Kincaid in an article on the legacy of Virginia Woolf. When I began reading, however, I felt uncomfortable with the writing style. It feels somehow abstract while being the opposite of abstract at the same time. It does remind one of Woolf’s The Waves, specifically the lyrical portions. She has a peculiar way of combining tribal visuals with English sentiments. Not every sto ...more
Aug 29, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It just wasn't my thing. It was like reading someone's dreams- it was made up of the description of a series of images. If I was into that kind of writing I would have really enjoyed it. For me, however, it was hard to follow, hard to stay engaged, and hard to see the commom theme. ...more
Dec 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
k got this for me (her notes in it were “tanisha— the night!”) and it blew me away. i just love jamaica kincaid so much. a small place blasted open travel writing for me, and now this collection has transformed the short story. makes me want to write, which is really all i can ever ask for.

reminds me of jean rhys but maybe it’s just that they’re both always writing about the caribbean, and the same images come back over and over again. her voice is so particular. “girl” and “in the night” were
May 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Kincaid strings her words together beautifully in these short stories. One of my favorite excerpts was in the story Wingless, when she says, "Oh, this must be a love like no other. But how can my limbs that hate be the same limbs that love? How can the same limbs that make me blind make me see? I am defenseless and small. I shall try to separate and divide things as if they were sums, as if they were drygoods on the grocer's shelves." ...more
Michalle Gould
Dec 21, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a tough one, right between four and five stars. I loved the experience of reading the stories but I have a feeling I will have a hard time remembering them and that keeps me from giving the book the full five stars. But I plan to return to it and re-read again a year or two from now and i wouldn't be surprised if I changed my mind. I think this may be a lazy summer afternoon sort of book so I'm not sure the short winter day was the right time to fully appreciate it. I definitely recommen ...more
Jul 28, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-story
This book was not for me. Even though this collection of short stories is only 86 pages long, it was a struggle to finish. But in all fairness, there was some impressive writing, and I really liked the first story, Girl (which I would give 4 stars). All of the stories obsessively focused, in very poetic language, with troubled relations between a daughter and mother.
More lyrical vignettes of island life than short stories, but quite interesting and evocative. Would probably be best appreciated read aloud.
Feb 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
This collection was breathtaking wow. I’m getting a physical copy to reread asap
Aug 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-fiction, aoc
At The Bottom of the River is my first book by Jamaica Kincaid but certainly not the last. It's hard to explain why I liked this. It's not just prose, it's not actually poetry, it flows as seemingly (dis)connected stories, threaded with long sentences, vivid dialogues, repetitions and Caribbean folklore, which creates a pattern, an image, like an impressionist painting of vignettes. Kincaid is capable of lacing a range of emotions with just few words, each accompanied by a sublime criticism of s ...more
Gabe Steller
Apr 04, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
this is some good woozy weird shit
Taylor Clarke
MY MOTHER is perhaps the most emotionally resonant writing about mothers I’ve ever read. For the rest of the collection, an emotional experience that otherwise eluded me.
Jun 16, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Unsettlingly confusing. Certain metaphors and sentences stand out beautifully, but the whole thing was too complicated for me to enjoy.
Apr 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a gorgeous book of short stories, all interconnected through themes of mother-daughter relationships and personal identity. I much prefer this book to A Small Place, the only other Jamaica Kincaid novel I've read. 4.5/5

"I saw a world in which the sun and the moon shone at the same time. They appeared in a way I had never seen before: the sun was The Sun, a creation of Benevolence and Purpose and not a star among many stars, with a predictable cycle and a predictable end; the moon, too, was
Beautiful writing, but the stories blended into one another for me. "Girl" is perhaps my favorite piece. ...more
May 14, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Although it is categorised as a collection of short stories, I feel like this might be better described as a collection of prose-poetry stories or something along those lines.

There were some beautiful parts that came together to create snippets of everyday life and descriptions of fantasy was woven in seamlessly. However, after a while I seemed to crave more ‘direction’ in the stories when the quotidian description meandered aimlessly a little bit too long. That said, because of its poetic natur
DeMisty Bellinger
Aug 06, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Like listening to Debussy or looking at a Monet painting: very imagistic, very impressionistic. At first, I was annoyed with the repetition, but that lasted only briefly. Kincaid's prose is more poetry than story and, at times, absolutely stunning.

Her oft anthologized "Girl" is the first story in this collection. Although "Girl" is wonderful, I wouldn't say it was the best. I think my least favorite was the title piece.
Oct 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: the-best
Before Kincaid's turn toward a more familiar realism this, her first collection of short stories, reflects a modernist out of time, a woman fighting through language's watery deeps to reach something impossible: the music of paradise, the silent sounds of pure happiness. Highly recommended for readers of Beckett, Woolf, or diasporic Caribbean literature more generally. ...more
She loves the thing untouched by lore
She loves the thing that is not cultivated, and yet
She loves the thing built up.
Bit carefully placed upon bit - it's very beauty
eclipsing the deed it is meant to commemerate.

Labeled as "short stories", I found these pieces to be a better fit in prose poetry - both in form and theme. Kincaid is a vituoso of lyrcism.
Valerie Valentine
Not my first time in these pages and won't be the last. The poetic moments confuse then cause me wonder in perfect phrasing. It's a slim volume but it takes time to work through. I will be reading A Small Place next. ...more
Liz Camfiord
Apr 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am a big fan of Jamaica Kincaid. This was the first book of hers I read. It's poetic, nuanced, wise and lush with surprising language. My impressions and some of the lines ("My fears, what large cows!") have stayed with me 'lo these 25 years later. ...more
Sort of an impressionist painting of a novel.

There are feels, obvious images, but in a way distorted, or sloppy, unclear.

Lots of lovely poetics, but I've read other novels that work this way that seemed to work better, somehow.
Dec 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Yum. I should have known that this would be amazing. I loved everything else of hers, why did I put this one off? So that I would have an artsy treat to read in the park one sunny day!
Sep 06, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
My advice for this book is, read the stories more than once. Seriously, do it.
« previous 1 3 4 5 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Palm-Wine Drinkard
  • A Sheltered Woman
  • Loose Woman
  • Luuanda
  • The Pathseeker
  • The Dream
  • Gösta Berling's Saga
  • Black Water
  • Brown Girl, Brownstones
  • El africano
  • The Tradition
  • Midwinter Murder: Fireside Tales from the Queen of Mystery
  • Eight Winter Nights
  • Ararat
  • The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree
  • Schizophrene
  • La muerte y la brújula
  • Games at Twilight and Other Stories
See similar books…
Jamaica Kincaid is a novelist, gardener, and former reporter for The New Yorker Magazine. She is a Professor of Literature at Claremont-McKenna College.

Related Articles

The celebrated author discusses the intersection between autobiography and fiction in See Now Then, her new novel about marriage, love, and hate.
30 likes · 7 comments
“this is how you smile to someone you don't like too much; this is how you smile to someone you don't like at all; this is how you smile to someone you like completely; this is how you set a table for tea; this is how you set a table for dinner; this is how you set a table for dinner with an important guest; this is how you set a table for lunch; this is how you set a table for breakfast; this is how to behave in the presence of men who don't know you very well, and this way they won't recognize immediately the slut I have warned you against becoming;” 21 likes
“The night-soil men can see a bird walking in trees. It isn't a bird. It is a woman who has removed her skin and is on her way to drink the blood of her secret enemies. It is a woman who has left her skin i a corner of a house made out of wood. It is a woman who is reasonable and admires honeybees in the hibiscus.” 6 likes
More quotes…