The Storyteller’s Daughter by Maria Goodin

A quick rundown… Meg May returns home to look after her ailing mother, determined to find the truth about her father in between her mother’s fanciful tales.

Strengths: Mrs May certainly knows how to invent a story.

Weaknesses: Mark, Meg’s boyfriend, is truly odious.

Why I read it: Received from Allen & Unwin and The Reading Room – thank you!

Pages: 270 (ARC)

Published: 2012

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Setting: Cambridge, England

Rating: 8 out of 10

The Storyteller’s Daughter is one of those books that are known by a number of different names, depending on the location (Nutmeg in the UK, From the Kitchen of Half Truth is the US). Why? I’m not sure, because all of these titles aptly describe the book. Meg May, is the storyteller’s daughter and I don’t mean in the Jodi Picoult Storyteller way – Mrs May (Valerie) is a teller of wild, fantastical stories involving food, baking and cooking. Hence, the kitchen of half-truth is definitely true of the book. Nutmeg relates to Meg, but doesn’t take into account what Meg is like. Upon learning that her mother’s tales are fiction, not fact (such as a scar being from the crab claw of a crab cake); the young Meg rejects fantasy and fairy tales for the cold reproducible truth of science. She carries this on to adulthood, where she completes a science degree and is about to start her PhD when she returns home to nurse her dying mother.

Valerie’s stories are still as fanciful as ever, but Meg is determined to know the truth about her father. Valerie won’t budge, so Meg starts to do detective work of her own. Her boyfriend, the cold and clinical Mark, encourages her to find out the truth, ignoring Meg’s feelings of doubt and disloyalty to her mother. With the flimsiest of clues, Meg starts out on the journey, while trying to ignore her mother’s new gardener and that perhaps a bit a fiction is necessary in life.

I did enjoy this book, as the stories that Valerie tells of Meg’s birth and various scrapes with running runner beans and other foods are very creative. It did start to wear on me (as it did Meg) that Valerie was eternally stubborn on her ‘half-truths’, so I was pleased when the action turned to the hunt for Meg’s father. The romantic action was pretty predictable (but still fun to read), but Mark’s character just turned my stomach. He was a pompous stuffed shirt, who didn’t demonstrate any real affection for Meg as herself, only for her scientific achievements. It was frustrating to read as Meg believed this was love and meekly accepted his orders.

The book became much darker in the second half, as the truths about Meg’s father and early life begin to be revealed. At times, it was dark enough for me to wish that Valerie would jump in with an anecdote about Meg being blown into space after a popcorn accident or something just as an absurd. While it wasn’t comfortable at times, I think the difference between truth and half-truth was necessary to illustrate what had happened with Valerie. The strengthening of the bond between Meg and Valerie was beautifully done, piece by piece as Meg finds out more – but will she be too late?

This novel conveys a range of emotions – at various times I laughed, cried and shook my head in disgust at what people do to others. Goodin weaves so many aspects into this book that it would be good for book clubs – the more I think about this, the more I appreciate its complexity and clever interweaving of life, love, family and the truth.

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