I listened to this book on Audible and for all of one minute the quiet lilting Caribbean voice of the narrator was as meditative as the turquoise waves gently lapping against the white sands of its setting. But I soon realised that the rum punch, palm trees and jerk chicken of my holiday memories bore very little resemblance to the Barbados of this novel where domestic abuse, corruption and misogyny reign free.
It opens with a cautionary tale about what happens to little girls who disobey their mothers and this sets the tone for the relentless misery that is to follow. The tale is told by Wilma, having experienced more than her faire share of abuse and loss, to her grand-daughter Lala who choses to ignore its message and takes a defiant and adventurous path through life. But predictably, things don't end turn out as she hoped and Lala finds herself married to the wrong man and losing her baby in tragic circumstances. And then there is Mira Whalen who doesn't realise how good she had it until it is too late and her husband is murdered before she told him that she loved him. The three women are all brilliantly flawed and complex characters and through their constantly alternating narrative we get right under their skin. And the writing is off-the-dial brilliant, Cherie Jones' poetic language and song-like rhythm to describe brutal violence is somehow beautiful and horrific at the same time.
It has deservedly made the shortlist for the Women's Prize for Fiction but has received criticism from readers for being too miserable. Personally, I think that is a short-sighted interpretation, for these women life is relentlessly unforgiving and to lighten it up with frivolities would be doing them a dis-service. But do not dive in unless you think you can handle it! I am a sucker for misery and rate it as one of my best reads of the year but it is definitely not for the faint-hearted.