Marina Warner's descriptive, time-splitting book is overlong, turgid and occasionally revelatory. The dual plot threads concern the effects of colonization in a small island called Enfant-Beate where a mystical woman creates the titular substance in an equally enigmatic process that once might describe as beautiful. The island portions of the novel share this beauty. They are by far the most interesting sections. Unfortunately, the reach them, the reader must also delve through disheveled, confusing and ultimately bland depictions of a young girl named Miranda in more-modern times coming to terms with her family's past of colonization. The faulty nature of Miranda's previous understanding of her family as somehow noble creates the narrative's principle focus. But it takes quite a long while to get there.
David Rudd argues children's literature operates with an inherent awareness of cultural hybridity, quoting Hoban's 1975 Turtle Diary, which states "each new generation of children has to be told: "`This is the world'....maybe the constant fear is that a generation of children will come along and say, "This is not the world'" (Rudd 21). This new understanding of the constructed world, according to Rudd, in children's literature, is "expressive [in an]...uneasy transaction along borders, in which something other is gradually brought within, melding into adulthood" (21). By Rudd's definition then, Marina Warner's Indigo is a children's book in that Miranda Everard's perception of her constructed self changes through the blurring of familial myth and history as she and her sister chart their clan's dark colonial past. Though Sy, sister Xanthe's intended, claims soon after the girls' arrival on Enfant-Beate that "`Nothing was achieved here, except the slave system...Nothing will be, either, in the sense that you and I mean--art, music, the life of the mind, culture, society'" (304), the effects of the cultural cataclysm of slavery run more personally deep in Miranda, remaining an integral piece of her identity she would rather not like to bear. Early on, she is comforted by her father Kit's "fragments about land and battles, home farms and far plantations where tobacco and sugar grew, the exploits of Ant Everard...famous scores and games" (73) all while a deadly fog churns in from above. By the novel's end and Xanthe's downfall as hotel owner, Miranda's illusions have been shattered as she realizes in"the real world of the end of the century, breakage and disconnect were the only possible outcome" (391). Miranda, in effect, is sidled with a dual consciousness: one of innocent childhood where her family's exploits were romanticized, and a growing adult awareness of the falsity of that world in light of her expanding knowledge of colonialism and her family's role in it.
Despite this, the novel remains sluggish and never quite reaches the full potential created by its ancient-times sequences which rollick and roar with swashbuckling aplomb, enriched by the beauty of nature.