Julia Forster’s debut novel is a light-hearted story about the pleasures and pains of leaving childhood behind, as Harper discovers CND, menstruation, a first boyfriend and a first glimpse of death. She also discovers, much as she’d like it to be otherwise, she must allow her parents to organise their love lives for themselves. Published earlier this year by Atlantic, I received my copy from the Curtis Brown Book Group. Although this novel wasn’t really to my taste, it might appeal to those for whom 1988 is ancient history (when women needed to be married to get a mortgage and olive oil came from the chemist for the sole purpose of dissolving earwax, apparently!) rather than the day before yesterday.
Henrietta is an endearing character whose good intentions often lead to trouble. But, despite moments of poignancy and humour, there are longeurs in the first half of the novel when we follow the preoccupations of a ten-year-old in rather too much detail. Nevertheless, I was interested to learn more about missionaries in China and about the Japanese internment camps; the latter, although in a different place and era, reminding me of the South African concentration camp in Dave Boling’s novel, The Undesirables. Congratulations Rebecca MacKenzie on an ambitious first novel, and thanks to Tinder Press for my proof copy.
In an effort to cure her of the “abomination”, her mother inflicts daily Bible lessons on the girl. Although respectful and compliant, Ijeoma is not convinced. I found this part a little preachy until we came to the tract supposedly teaching that it’s preferable for a woman to be raped than for two men to engage in consensual sex. Despite living in America since the age of ten, Chinelo Okparanta seems to be addressing her debut model to her native Nigeria, which an author’s note confirms as a country with high levels of religiosity and in which same-sex relationships are criminalised. Not much celebration in LGBT history month over there. Under the Udala Trees is an important novel for that reason, more of a biography than a particular type of woman, in the manner that Academy Street is about the Irish diaspora. Thanks to Granta for my review copy.