Hello bibliophiles! Today I am back with a weeks-old review on a book that sent me into a very sad spiral for a while. I drafted this review way back then but held off on posting because I wanted to ruminate over it a little longer. It’s now time, so let’s get into the second-last Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlistee that I will be reviewing (other reviews can be found at the end of this post): How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones.
A debut novel in the tradition of Zadie Smith and Marlon James, from a brilliant Caribbean writer, set in Barbados, about four people each desperate to escape their legacy of violence in a so-called “paradise.”
In Baxter Beach, Barbados, moneyed ex-pats clash with the locals who often end up serving them: braiding their hair, minding their children, and selling them drugs. Lala lives on the beach with her husband, Adan, a petty criminal with endless charisma whose thwarted burglary of one of the Baxter Beach mansions sets off a chain of events with terrible consequences. A gunshot no one was meant to witness. A new mother whose baby is found lifeless on the beach. A woman torn between two worlds and incapacitated by grief. And two men driven by desperation and greed who attempt a crime that will risk their freedom — and their lives.
Overall rating: 3.5/5
Genre: Historical fiction, literary fiction
Read if you loved: The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Content warnings: Traumatic birth, miscarriage, murder, infertility, domestic violence, incest, rape of a minor, sexual assault, victim blaming
Ugh, you guys. This book made me so damn sad. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite as depressing or maybe this just wasn’t the time for me to read it. That being said, I’m never going to reread this because I can’t go through this story again.
Alright now that that’s out of my system – How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House is undeniably a well-written book. The writing is beautiful and powerful, which is what is needed to tell a story such as this one. It will get to you in terrible ways, haunt you well after, and leave you clutching your body as you experience the horrors that these women endure, just to remind yourself that you are here and you are safe. I will not contest this, and I understand why it was shortlisted. It is also so important because as horrific as it is for me to read, I know that it is a lived reality for so many women around the world and their tragedies need to be heard and learned. Jones does a phenomenal job of highlighting the cyclical and inescapable pattern of violence that entraps both perpetrators and victims, and often people who end up as both. This is done incredibly well, with emphasis on how class and sex based hierarchies increase risk and diminish – if not entirely quench – hope for improvement. But wow, does this get you down.
There is no light in this book. No hope, not even a smidgen. It is bleak upon bleak upon bleak. I understand that Jones did this in order to be true to stories such as Lala’s, because stories like this don’t normally have happy endings. However, in the context of a novel, it was almost too much. Here’s the thing: I felt like I connected to these characters solely because you can’t not connect to them after reading about the things that they go through. And that’s not great. I feel like I learned nothing about them outside of their trauma – their entire story is boiled down to that alone. This is especially true for Mira, who initially seemed to be an important protagonist but was sidelined, leaving me with so many questions about her. This book is so hard to review because I see both sides – that you don’t want to sugarcoat a story like this but also I need *something* to provide balance. There was nothing to hope for in this book and that made it really difficult to get through.
Is this a good book? Yes. Should people read it? Yes. Are you going to be in a dark place afterwards? Also, yes. Thankfully, it’s fairly short so you won’t be slogging through too many pages of darkness but I would highly recommend picking up a lighter rom-com or something of that nature to give you some respite. And let me know – what is the saddest book that you have ever read? Which book’s darkness still stays with you today?
Reviews of books shortlisted for the 2021 Women’s Prize For Fiction