Sunday, November 21, 2010

Book Review: The Kitchen House

The Kitchen House: A Novel


In the mid-1700s, Lavinia loses her parents on a ship from Ireland to America. She becomes an indentured servant to "the Captain," and is brought to his plantation where she is placed to live with the slaves in the kitchen house. The Captain gives his daughter (whose mother was a slave) responsibility for caring for Lavinia. Here the little girl grows up as a part of the slaves' family, until she is given the opportunity as a teenager to move into white society. Eventually, Lavinia returns as mistress of the plantation and struggles with her loyalty to the slaves who are like family to her, and her role as their owner.

The story as outlined above had such potential. But as I began reading The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom, I struggled. I thought at first that I just wasn't in the mood for historical fiction. So I took a break and then went back to it. But I ended up struggling through the entire book. Although the overall story was interesting, the writing did not do it justice. The story is told mostly from Lavinia's point of view, with several chapters written in Belle's voice. But it didn't feel like these characters were really talking to me. I didn't feel their emotions. The story was told as if it were a third party telling it, rather than coming from the mouths of the people who supposedly lived through this.

In addition, Grissom went too far with the tragedies in this story. Slavery, abuse (spousal, child and slave), torture, murder, alcoholism, drug addition, incest, accidental death, rape, and on and on. It seems that every tragedy that could be added to the story was included. If the author would have left out about half of the tragedies, it would have been a more enjoyable book. I get the point: slavery was bad and even the slave owners had major problems. But eventually, it got ridiculous and I found myself skimming to get through to the end.

The book actually has some very high ratings on Amazon, so I'm very interested to see what the rest of my book club thought of it when we meet at the end of the month.

My Rating: 2/5

This review was written based on a copy of The Kitchen House that I own.

4 comments:

  1. Wow, just based on the subject matter alone, you would think it would have worked -- what a shame!

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  2. Just finished the book - and I totally agree that there were just too many tragedies. Made the book seem more contrived as a TV movie than a true historical novel.

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  3. The writing was so amateurish that I couldn't get past 40 pages. Every writer knows to show not tell.

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  4. Oh, wow, I had exactly the opposite reaction - reading the story from Lavinia's and Belle's mouths made me feel like they were really telling me their stories. Perhaps it helped that I started the book by listening to the audio for the first 100 pages or so - so I did actually hear their "voices".

    As for the tragedies, I thought it was realistic. I read that the author did a LOT of research, including reading real first-person accounts from slaves. Also, I felt that much of the violence and abuse was the result of Marshall himself being abused so horribly as a child...and I think that is also a realistic situation, where abuse can sometimes cause the victim to become the abuser, in an effort to exert control over his life and determination to never again be the powerless victim.

    Well, my book group will be discussing this tomorrow night, so I look forward to hearing what everyone else thinks!

    Sue

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