Highlights in the Charts
How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones
Reviewed by Jenna Tomlinson
Cherie Jones’ How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House is a novel which delves into the darker side of paradise through the intertwining stories of three marriages. Jones’ debut intricately explores what occurs behind the closed doors of those living in the world's most 'idyllic' places. Set in Baxter’ s Beach, the fictional Barbados town, luxury rubs shoulders with poverty and cultural taboos weave with injustice and systemic mistrust.
The novel centres on three women: Lala, who is trapped in an abusive marriage and dealing with the loss of a child under horrific circumstances; her grandmother, Wilma, a woman part of the cycle of generational abuse; and Mrs. Whalen, whose husband has been murdered in a crime gone awry. Alongside these three women are the peripheral characters surrounding each story, including a beach gigolo, an abusive husband embroiled in crime, an inefficient but confident police inspector and the rich white tourists visiting the island.
The book is compelling, drawing you in from the start. Each character has dedicated chapters which helps develop a clear understanding of their motivations and experiences. The chapters are short which creates a fast and almost claustrophobic pace for the novel. The reader sees the events unfolding before them, but they are powerless to do anything other than hurtle forwards, knowing nothing will ever be the same for these characters.
Jones writes with distinctive empathy and pity. Lala's story is devastating, told with a tender attention to detail. Desperate to leave her abusive husband, Lala saves small amounts of her miniscule wage to get away. When her 'secure hiding place' is found and the money taken by Adan, the reader falls into despair with Lala, wholeheartedly empathising with her loss of hope.
The seemingly magical paradise of Baxter's Beach is effortlessly juxtaposed with reality; Jones cleverly contrasts the beauty of the location with the devastating experiences of Lala and her family. An example of this is the simple, yet thought-provoking, description of debris on the beach which ruins the idyllic sand; this side of Baxter Island is missing in the travel adverts of tourists walking arm in arm, barefoot on the beaches with no need to avoid cigarette butts, broken bottles and rubbish.
Overall, Jones' novel is a harrowing must-read, with vivid descriptions and an unflinching critique of both paradise and sacrifices many women in these locations have to make every day to survive.
The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams
Reviewed by Lauren Fardoe
Described by Shondaland as “the most heartfelt read of the summer”, Adams’ The Reading List presents an extraordinary testament about the power of a connection brought about by a shared love of books.
The novel centres on Mukesh, a man living a lonely existence after the death of his wife. Consumed with worries about his reclusive granddaughter, Mukesh attempts to reach out to her through her love of reading. The novel also focuses on Aleisha, a teenager working at the local library. She discovers a forgotten reading list in the back of a novel and decides to pursue the collection of novels after struggling with her life at home. Whilst not a traditional bookworm, she finds solace and comfort within the books suggested to her.
The Reading List explores the importance of reading, especially within the framework of the modern world. Through the reading list discovered by the teenager, Mukesh and Aleisha come together, each finding comfort in stories similar to their own. Many of the books on the list are well-known in popular culture, with Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and du Maurier’s Rebecca featuring. The list also includes books which are slightly less cemented in the literary canon, like Seth’s A Suitable Boy and Morrison’s Beloved. Although the novel might be slightly more understandable to those who have read or possess some knowledge of these books, Adams’ descriptive ability and the tangible impact of the texts on the characters’ lives is undeniable, regardless.
Whilst the novel is almost stereotypical in its characterisation of an older man and a younger teenage woman, the plot and the endearing narrative style redeems the slight predictability of the ending. The juxtaposition of both characters, who are at remarkably different stages of their lives, highlights the unifying bond of books.
Adams’ story is about grief, loneliness, mental health, family dynamics and friendship. It teaches us that knowledge can be gained from reading fiction, with novels giving us the ability to deal with problems in our own lives. The novel also promotes the escapism that books can provide; they present us with a way to experience all sorts of worlds and lived experiences. Whilst the book is very wholesome, be prepared for heart-breaking sadness at some points; Adams’ writing ability ensures that the grief and trauma experienced by the characters are palpable. In summary, it’s a novel which truly demonstrates the life-changing power of books, especially when life may not be going as well as it could be.