My Devotion by Julia Kerninon translated by
While Helen continues her studies and embarks on an academic career, Frank seems to drift until, in his late twenties, he discovers a hidden talent for art. In time, he becomes a celebrated painter, with the bohemian lifestyle that accompanies it, while Helen assumes responsibility for the domestic arrangements. Not partners, but more than friends, they coexist in seeming harmony until Helen is forced to ask herself whether Frank is worthy of her devotion.
With short chapters, and lots of twists and turns, this is an absorbing novel about love, loyalty, self-sacrifice and the damaged adults who emerge from neglectful childhoods. Thanks to publishers Europa editions for my review copy.
Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi
We know from the start that the mother-daughter relationship is conflicted, and Tara’s (the mother) forgetting of the cruelties inflicted on Antara is, for the daughter, a source of great pain. As the novel progresses, we learn of her history of maternal neglect. Fleeing her stultifying marriage, Tara took her three-year-old to live in an ashram where, when the Guru takes her as his consort, she abandons Antara to the care of his previous paramour. Four years later, when the Guru passes her over for another, mother and daughter are homeless until Tara’s parents taken them in.
I loved this Booker Prize shortlisted debut initially for the fabulous voice. Later, when I couldn’t see where it was going my interest sagged. Then it picked up again as more of Antara’s damaged childhood, including a year at boarding school tortured by nuns, contextualised her flaky adult persona. There’s an excellent reversal when she has second thoughts about her mother’s possible recovery which I felt could have been given more prominence; as written, I didn’t think it a contender for the UK’s biggest fiction prize.
But had I missed something? I read this for my book group (and bought my own copy) and was taken aback when one member said she didn’t enjoy it much until she realised Antara is an unreliable narrator. I read her as biased, certainly, but unreliable implies some essential piece of the jigsaw is withheld. That would make it a different book, a better book, but I’m still waiting for that aha moment to change my mind. Published in India under the title Girl in White Cotton, Burnt Sugar is published by Hamish Hamilton in the UK.
There’s a short story about an enmeshed mother-daughter relationship in my collection, Somebody’s Daughter. Click on the image for a free copy.
 I was excited to come across a novel set in this Indian city which I visited several years ago but, alas, remember nothing about!
 What a fabulous way of introducing a character.
 I find myself increasingly in need of plot. See The therapy journey and narrative structure.
I considered this last week for the flash fiction challenge to write about kid gloves, but I think it worked better with my therapy journey post . But you’ll see I sneaked those gloves into this week’s 99-word story on the theme of chores.
Domesticity drove her crazy. Or was it merely my muck made her mad? A ten-pound food-processing system: in went puréed parsnip, out came puke and shit. Now she’s the one in nappies, I flutter around her in kid gloves.
I left her once; guilt made me boomerang back. Or perhaps the hope she’d finally love me, now she had time to spare.
People say I’m saintly. I say I’ve no choice. They don’t see how easy it is, behind the cooking and cleaning and laundry. How easy to mess with the mind of someone you’ve known your entire life.