REVIEW: How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones

In brief: Set in Barbados, this is the story of Lala and her family, poverty, murder and loss. Mira escaped the island to have it all, but falls victim to crime.

The good: Brutally honest.

The not-so-good: Incredibly sad in places.

Why I chose it: Sounded like a good read. Thanks to Hachette for the copy.

Year: 2021

Pages: 312

Publisher: Tinder Press (Hachette)

Setting: Barbados

Rating: 7 out of 10

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House might lead you to think that this is a quirky, fun novel but it’s not. It’s a brutally honest look at poverty, relationships (from incest to domestic violence) and the extremes people will go to for someone they love or money. It’s heartbreaking and contrasts particularly well the differences between the rich visitors to Barbados and the people who live there in poverty, dependent on the tourist trade for money.

Lala is the major character of the novel, although several chapters are told from the perspectives of others. Lala’s grandmother told her a folktale as a child to try to get her to behave (this is where the title came from) but she didn’t always heed it. It’s only the reader who realises the full meaning of her grandmother’s tale later in the novel. Now an adult, Lala has married Adan and is about to have his child. She lives in a ramshackle shack above the beach with a Pepsi sign for a door. When she goes into labour, she’s by herself. Seeking help, she rings the buzzer at one of the fancy beach houses, only for it to be answered by Adan. He’s just killed a wealthy foreigner in pursuit of money and caused devastation to his widow, Mira. Mira is from Barbados, but escaped to London with Peter. Now she realises that she really loved him, but how can she let him know? Adan’s trail of destruction doesn’t end with Mira, but with assault leading to the death of his child. Now the police are on the hunt and things get very mixed up as he tries to coerce his friend Tone into helping him pull off a big crime…

I’ve seen this book described as a thriller and I think that misses the point. One murder and some crime does not a thriller make. To me, this is a novel about poverty, forced decisions and trying to do the best with what you have. There is a lot of love in this novel, as well as regret. Sometimes some of the other characters’ points of view felt a bit extra, such as the police sergeant. The chopping and changing of viewpoints I felt made some of the things that happened to Lala and her family less powerful. However, it did illustrate that not everything was as it seemed and all the characters had regrets. Jones writes well and infuses a lot of emotion into her writing – one couldn’t help feel for Lala and all she had experienced at a young age. It’s a solid debut that will make the reader consider what life is really like for those who live and work in tourist hotspots.

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