Saturday, March 26, 2011
Fruit of the Lemon
I picked this book, Fruit of the Lemon by Andrea Levy, off of the library shelf last week, and it looked promising and different from the mainstream genre books. It's the story of Faith, a woman born in England of parents who emigrated from Jamaica. With first-person narration, we learn the story of Faith's life in England, how she grew up never hearing about her parents' life in Jamaica, and becoming aware of the way racial prejudices affect her life. I liked Faith's voice and I was impressed at how beautifully Levy kept the feeling of the story light and even funny at times, while simultaneously addressing serious issues.
And then Faith's parents decide that they want to return to Jamaica, and Faith takes a trip there for her first experience of Jamaican life and culture. Great jumping off point, right? I had high hopes. But for me, here's where the novel lost focus. Faith's voice, so clear in the first half of the novel, was diluted by sections in which the stories of Faith's Jamaican relatives were told to Faith. If only Levy had shown us Faith discovering these aspects of Jamaican life in a more natural way -- this structure only frustrated me, as it took me away from the narrator I'd come to care about AND seemed so heavy-handed in the way it dumped out different character's histories at me.
Sadly, the part I wanted the most -- Faith's reactions to the new place, her new sense of her own history, and how that made her view and approach her parents differently -- was not really shown in this book. The novel ends, in fact, with Faith stepping off of the plane when she returns to England so you never get to see Faith interact with her immediate family afterwards. But I wanted to see her family dynamic, rich now with her sense of where her parents came from, unfold with the same skillful writing that set up the family dynamic in the first half of the book.
I've noticed this a lot -- the first half of a book will be good, but the second half just slides away. I wonder -- did the author have to submit half of the novel to get the publishing contract, and didn't put as much work into the second half? Or did the author get tired of the story and want to just wrap up fast and move on to another? Most probably, it's that it's easier to build a good premise than it is to maintain that complex balance of character and plot as the story comes to a conclusion.
At any rate, here's my summary: good premise, skillful writing, but the second half of the novel didn't live up to the first half.
Posted by Diane Perin at 8:23 AM