Monday 28 June 2021

Guest review by Jane Rogers: HOW THE ONE ARMED SISTER SWEEPS HER HOUSE by Cherie Jones


 "Tough, vivid, humane and heartbreaking"

Jane Rogers has written ten novels, including The Testament of Jessie Lamb, Man-Booker longlisted and winner of the Arthur C Clarke Award 2012. Other works include Mr Wroe's Virgins (which she dramatised as a BBC drama series), and Promised Lands (Writers' Guild Best Fiction Award). Jane also writes short stories, radio drama and adaptations, and has taught writing to a wide range of students.

Her new dystopia Body Tourists is now available in paperback. For more information, see Jane's website.

I should start by admitting that I taught Cherie Jones. She was a student on the MA in Writing at Sheffield Hallam University, and one of the most talented writers I’ve been lucky enough to teach. Our talk was mainly about her writing, and books, but I learned enough of her personal life to know that she had children and a job back in Barbados, and to be deeply impressed by the commitment to writing which had brought her all the way to Sheffield.

And here at last is the novel, even better than I thought it would be: tough, vivid, humane and heartbreaking.

Set in Barbados, it tells the story of wilful Lala, who marries the wrong man and tries to look after her baby in appalling circumstances. Adan is a violent criminal, and the abuse he metes out to Lala is the stuff of nightmares. Lala’s perspective is the predominant one in the novel, and I found her anticipation of Adan’s violence almost too harrowing to read, at times. Her story is intercut with that of Mira Whalen, the white English holiday-maker whose husband has been murdered by Adan. Not only has Peter been shot, he’s been shot defending her, in the night after the couple have had a row and her lack of apology or kindness has led him to sleep in the spare room. Compounded with guilt, her grief is confused and ugly and raw. When one of Peter’s sisters phones with long-distance condolences, Mira replies, ‘What are you sorry for? That it wasn’t me instead?’

Lala has a secret; she’s really in love with Adan’s best friend Tone. And Tone returns her love. But both of them know only too well how dangerous Adan is … And neither of them has any money. Lala braids hair on the beach, and Tone makes his living off wealthy white women who’re looking for a black one-night stand as part of their holiday fun. Their lives form a grim contrast to notions of a holiday paradise.

Baxter’s Beach is vividly evoked, and Cherie explores its denizens’ colour and class divides with even-handed compassion and empathy. The book is succinctly and beautifully written, fast-paced enough to be read in a couple of sittings. Here’s a first novel that thoroughly deserves its placing on the Women’s Prize shortlist. Bravo, Cherie!

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps her House
is published by Tinder Press.

More reviews by Jane Rogers:

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

The Great Derangement by Amitav Ghosh

On dramatising No Longer At Ease by Chinua Achebe

Jane Rogers' Body Tourists reviewed by Linda Newbery

Another shortlisted title for the Women's Prize for Fiction, Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers, is reviewed here by Adèle Geras.

1 comment:

Nicola Morgan said...

Within seconds of reading this review I had ordered both How The One Armed Sister and Body Tourists from my local bookshop! Loved Mr Wroe's Virgins and Jessie Lamb and this has reminded me to seek out Jane R's other work.