Although I have not yet read anything by Bernardine Evaristo I am so grateful to her for bringing about this Bla/ / / Read more reviews on my blog / /
Although I have not yet read anything by Bernardine Evaristo I am so grateful to her for bringing about this Black Britain: Writing Back series (which re-issues 6 titles by Black British authors). If it hadn't been for Evaristo, I doubt I would have come across The Fat Lady Sings, a criminally overlooked modern classic. Jacqueline Roy's novel provides an eye-opening look into mental health in Britain: set in the 1990s in London the novel is narrated by two Black women who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses and sectioned into a psychiatric hospital. The setting of course brought to mind Girl, Interrupted but style and tone-wise it seemed closer to Everything Here is Beautiful.
The narrators of The Fat Lady Sings have starkly different voices. Born in Jamaica Gloria, the title's 'singing lady', is now in her forties and grieving the death of her partner, Josie. Because she occasionally breaks into a song and or starts skipping instead of walking she is deemed mentally ill and forced into a psychiatric ward. Here, she grows irritated by the inefficient staff and doctors, who resort to overmedicating their patients or shaming them for not making 'progress'. Yet, despite her circumstances, Gloria is unwilling to be less of herself and I truly loved her for it: she was funny, observant, strong, and empathetic. The other chapters are narrated by Merle. Whereas Gloria's narrative is full of life and awareness of her circumstances and new environment, Merle's narrative is far more fragmented, her voice often drowned out by other voices. These voices describe what is happening and what has happened to her, but they do so with vehemence, belittling her, calling her slurs, blaming her for everything little thing. Merle's chapters once again brought to mind Everything Here is Beautiful as they provide an unflinching glimpse into someone diagnosed with a mental illness. According to the hospital, Merle is in the ward because she suffered a psychotic breakdown. Yet, their attempts to help her seem at times to be more harmful than not. It is Gloria who begins to really see Merle, and the bond between these two women was truly heart-rendering to read. During their time at the ward, they are made to do 'exercises that require them to talk or write about their past, and through these, we learn more about Gloria's early life and Merle's childhood and marriage.
First published in 2000 The Fat Lady Sings is not only stylistically innovative but discusses all too relevant issues (mental health, race, sexuality) and I hope that thanks to Evaristo it will find its audience. In spite of the harrowing depiction of mental health and sexual abuse, The Fat Lady Sings is not without its moment of joy and beauty. Roy renders the vulnerabilities and strengths of her characters with nuance and empathy. Like some of the best novels out there The Fat Lady Sings made me sad, it made me laugh, and, more importantly, it made me think. Not an easy read but a truly wonderful novel that I look forward to re-reading....more
Although I am no longer an avid YA reader, I do like to now and again pick up a YA title, especially if, like in the case of Girl, Serpent, Thorn, it promises to be sapphic. While Melissa Bashardoust's prose is readable enough, even if it does occasionally veer into purple territories, her story and characters left a bit to be desired. The novel invests far too much time in a character that is not all that interesting and our protagonist spends most of her time in self-pity or playing the blame game. Girl, Serpent, Thorn follows Soraya a princess who was cursed with a deathly touch (which reminded me of Rogue aka Anna Marie aka my all-time favourite Marvel character). Soraya's curse is kept a secret from her family's kingdom, and she has spent most of her days secluded from others. Around the time her brother's wedding is announced two strangers arrive at the palace. One is a handsome young man who seems unperturbed by Soraya's curse, and the other is a prisoner, a demon by the name of Pavenah. I obviously approached this under the wrong impression as the first half of the story is centred upon the relationship between Soraya and this young man. The world is barely sketched out, the palace too remains largely undescribed, and the characters' motivations weren't always rendered in a convincing way. The romance(s) felt rushed and I would have much preferred the narrative to have a slow-burn romance between Soraya and Pavenah...but things don't exactly pan out that way. Soraya spends the latter half of the story being plonked here and there, all the while going on about how she can't trust the ones around her or having basic thoughts about who the real monster is...and I just...urgh. I did not like it. I found it repetitive and predictable. I am also so over the villain who tells the protagonist to "join them" because "together" they would be "unstoppable" and all. N-O. The story took itself and its characters too seriously at times. The villain is cartoonish, Soraya is no antiheroine, merely an impulsive air-head, and Pavenah...well, she could have been interesting but her presence is relegated to the latter half of the novel and by then I was sort of done with it all. And there are all these "betrayals" that had no real weight and the sheer abundance of them reminded me a bit of House of Flying Daggers. All in all, this book was not for me. I doubt I would have finished it if it hadn't been for the narrator of the audiobook version (she was great). But, I also recognise that maybe this is because I am no longer part of this book's target demographic....more
The main reason why I read The Witch's Hand was Maggie Stiefvater's 5-star review for it (what can I say, I trus/ / / Read more reviews on my blog / /
The main reason why I read The Witch's Hand was Maggie Stiefvater's 5-star review for it (what can I say, I trust in Stiefvater). And I'm so glad I did! Way back when I had an *ahem* Scooby-Doo phase (not only did I watch 20+ Scooby-Doo animated films but I also ended up devouring the two Mystery Incorporated seasons...all over the course of one summer. I know, I had a problem.) so I was immediately drawn to The Witch's Hand: we have the small-town setting (with a, you guessed it, creepy lighthouse) + a bunch of kids trying to solve a mystery. We follow orphaned twins Pete and Alastair Montague who spend most of their time solving mysteries. Their latest case may be more complicated than their previous one as it may involve a witch and magic. The retro art really suited the setting (1960s America) and I liked the banter between the various characters. Yes, the bad guy was a bit too Disneyesque for my taste but I also appreciated the YA tone of the story (as opposed to middle-grade) and its atmosphere. I look forward to reading the next instalment as I would be happy to read more of the Montague twins and their antics....more
For a work that was first published in 1998 Daughter of Fortune strikes me as something more suited to the 197/ / / Read more reviews on my blog / / /
For a work that was first published in 1998 Daughter of Fortune strikes me as something more suited to the 1970s. Don't get me wrong, I love Isabel Allende's work and she is one of my favourite authors, however, at the risk of coming across as an oversensitive zillennial, her mystification of China struck me as rather old-fashioned. The way Allende portrays other cultures and groups relies on clichés. Yes, some of these characters were, for the most part, 'harmless' stereotypes, but nonetheless, they did induce an eye-roll or two on my part (for instance, every indigenous woman from Chile is cuvacious and passionate).
As with many other novels by Allende Daughter of Fortune is very heavy on the telling. There are very few, if any, dialogues, which did occasionally distance me from the events Allende narrated. Still, her storytelling, for the most part, kept me engaged in the characters and their stories. The novel begins in Chile during the 1840s. Eliza Sommers, a Chilean girl and the novel's central character, is adopted by Rose Sommers, an unmarried Briton. Rose lives with her strict older brother and tries to raise Eliza as a 'proper' Victorian lady. Eliza, however, goes on to fall head-over-heels in love with a Chilean man of 'dubious' character. When her beloved is struck by gold fever and leaves for California, a bereft Eliza will risk her own life to be reunited with him. The story definitely takes its time, and, the first few chapters are less focused on Eliza than a tertiary character, a certain Jacob Todd who travels to Chile after making a bet. He falls for Rose but she clearly does return his affection. We also read about his friends, Feliciano Rodriguez de Santa Cruz and his wife, whose role in the novel feels rather superfluous. During Part I we also learn more about Rose and her brothers and of Eliza's childhood with them. The remainder of the novel details Eliza's epic journey to find the man she loves. During this time Eliza becomes acquainted with Tao Chi'en, a shanghaied physician who for a time worked as a cook on a ship captained by Rose's other brother, John. Across two lengthy chapters, Allende recounts Tao's life, from his early days to his marriage and, after his wife's death, of his eventual disillusionment. Once in California Eliza and Tao grow closer and it is their bond that truly makes this novel. Allende, quite clearly, shows that Eliza's feelings towards her paramour lead her to idealize this poco di buono man. Yet, her devotion towards him is such that she is willing to spend years of her life in search of him, passing as a young man in order to travel with more freedom. The novel is certainly full of drama and Allende frequently falls prey to sappy platitudes (about love, destiny, desire, womanhood). But whereas I could easily overlook Allende's tendency towards the melodramatic, I had a harder time looking past her clichéd portrayal of China, its culture, and people. When the narrative is relating Tao's youth, Allende, quite out of the blue, feels the obligation of using a metaphor involving rice (when describing a Chinese mother's grief: “the little girl’s accident was like the grain of rice that makes the bowl overflow.”). Tao, who is in his thirties, is described looking as sometimes looking like a teenager, and, “ancient as a turtle”, so that “it was easy then to believe that he had lived many centuries”. Whyyyyyy do we have to compare the one Chinese character to a turtle?! And of course, because he is an East Asian man he has to have “delicate ” hands. Allende includes many other stereotypes about China, and I just have very little patience for this sort of stuff. It didn't help that Allende includes a plethora of clichés (such as prostitutes with hearts of gold, or Eliza 'rescuing' a Native American boy....come on Allende!). Yes, there were many beautiful descriptions and Allende clearly researched this period of history but I had a hard time getting to like or care for her characters (who are racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, judgemental, anti-abortion). While it made sense, given that the story takes place during the 1840s, it made it difficult for me to actually relate or sympathize with the characters. Eliza was beautiful (in an unconventional way, of course), kind, and clever. The classic heroine. Her love for this guy was definitely of the insta-love variety, and while the narrative does point this out, I struggled to understand what possessed her to follow this guy whose blandness is such that I cannot recollect his name. I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that the development between Tao and Eliza, and it was refreshing to see a Chinese man be not only one of the main characters but the heroine's love interest. I wish the novel had focused exclusively on them, with less of the 'will they won't they' subplot. Overall, the novel is kind of cheesy and rather dated. Still, fans of Allende who are less 'sensitive' than I am will probably enjoy this a lot more than I did....more
In Soy Sauce for Beginners Kirstin Chen explores the dichotomy between tradition and modernity. When her marri/ / / Read more reviews on my blog / / /
In Soy Sauce for Beginners Kirstin Chen explores the dichotomy between tradition and modernity. When her marriage collapses our narrator and protagonist, Gretchen Lin, leaves San Francisco behind and returns to her family home in Singapore. Gretchen begins working at her family's artisanal soy sauce business—hence the title—which was recently embroiled in a food-poising scandal thanks to her cousin's shortcuts. Her father clearly wants Gretchen to take her cousin's place as the future head of the company but Gretchen plans on returning to San Francisco, hoping that she can still salvage her crumbling marriage. Soon her mind is occupied by her mother's health, in particular, her excessive drinking. Chen's writing flows easily and the drama between the various characters makes for some entertaining reading material. Without resorting to long descriptions Chen manages to render Singapore, from its customs to its nightlife, so that this setting becomes the most vibrant aspect of her story. What lets the story down somewhat is its narrator. Gretchen spends most of the novel angsting over her husband—who is a dick—and making jabs about the young woman he involved himself with. She is not particularly involved in her job at her family's company, avoids spending time with her friends, and hangs out with a boring guy she does not particularly care for. I also really hated the whole subplot involving her American friend who is no longer 'dumpy' but has transformed into a 'babe' everyone loves. She actually works hard, she is respected in a way that Gretchen isn't, and she 'steals' her friends away. And, instead of showing that Gretchen was being jealous over nothing, the story makes this friend into kind of a 'snake'. Gretchen gave me some strong judgy vibes, especially when it comes to the women around her (I am tired of reading about women 'bitching' about each other...we can do better than that). I wish the narrative had focused less on Gretchen moping about her husband and life, and more time on her interacting with her family and friends. Still, the food descriptions were mouth-watering and I liked the glitzy lifestyle Gretchen and those around her enjoy.
Throughout the course of the story, Gretchen has to reconcile her desires with her father and mother's expectations of her. An easy read that ultimately manages to have a satisfying ending and that does not surprisingly focus on romance....more