Crazy as Chocolate by Elisabeth Hyde

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Crazy as Chocolate by Elisabeth Hyde

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Claire Storey
Reviewed by Claire Storey
Summary: A very compelling read on an uncomfortable subject. Living with mental illness in the family is never easy and this book seeks to explore some of the issues in a sensitive and humorous manner. Never dour this is a commendable read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 176 Date: March 2007
Publisher: Pan
ISBN: 978-0330449663

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Izzy is about to reach a turning point in her life. Her forty-first birthday is approaching and with it a flood of memories, for it was on her forty-first birthday that Izzy's mum committed suicide Izzy knows that it is crazy - If forty-one is anything, it's an age where a grown daughter ought to be able to put these things behind her. But, when your life is ruled by what has gone before, simply putting it behind you is not an option. It's even less of an option when your sister, niece and father are with you on your birthday forming a constant reminder of the past.

Elizabeth Hyde's third novel deftly explores the subject of mental illness and the effects on family life. Clever interweaving of flashbacks into present day events makes for a novel that is as compelling and intense as its subject matter whilst preserving what is essentially an easy read. Hyde does not shy away from some of the more awkward aspects of mental illness and I felt that she really got to grips with the stigma and long-lasting effects of such illnesses on both the sufferer and those caring for them.

As Izzy and her sister, Ellie grow up they do so with a mother who dances in the rain and goes, unprepared, on long car trips to nowhere. Mimi is a colourful mother, deeply adored by her children and even the realisation that their mother is a bit different, more embarrassing than most and maybe even a bit wild, does nothing to dent this adoration. This creates a rather awkward and uncomfortable pastiche for the reader of a rather surreal, yet strangely idyllic childhood.

Now, entering her forty-second year, Izzy gets yet more reminders of the legacy that her mother has left. Izzy has long known that her sister, Ellie, has been treated for depression but the true extent of that legacy is about to unfold in front not only of Izzy and her widower father, but also Ellie's seven-year-old daughter Rachel.

Hyde's characterisation was, for me, what really brought the book to life. She does not shy from the awkwardness of mental illness, neither does she seek to glamorise. The relationships between the characters are beautifully captured and one felt that one was looking through a window on time, particularly during some of the mother/daughter exchanges such was the reality of the conversation. What also struck me as clever was that, despite this clarity of flashback, one actually had room to think and imagine what was going on in the present. Evidence of Ellie's own illness is viewed real-time and without judgement, meaning that the reader feels just some of the confusion that one would feel were one's own family going through similar times: just who do you believe?

I found this book easy to read and unusual in that it was the kind of book that I would happily read in one sitting or in multiple, small chunks. This, I think, is a credit to the strength of characterisation which, if you are the kind of person who likes to read a couple of pages before turning out the light, means that there is no danger of forgetting what went before.

If I have a criticism of the text it is with the ending which in contrast to the rest of the book felt rather abrupt, perhaps under-developed, and rather sickly and left me just a tad disappointed that after such a wonderful read things came together in the way that they did. Personally I'd have left the epilogue out and might even go so far as to recommend that the epilogue isn't read if you don't want to destroy some of the wonderfully involving story that you have just read. This is, however, a minor criticism of a rather wonderful read.

With thanks to the publishers, Pan, for sending this book.

If you like the sound of this, you'll probably also enjoy Elisabeth Hyde's earlier work, The Abortionist's Daughter and also Love in the Present Tense by Catherine Ryan Hyde. The wonderful The Tenderness of Wolves might also hit the spot for its strength of characterisation and compelling storyline. For factual accounts of the effects of mental illness on the sufferer and their family you might also appreciate Elaine Bass' A Secret Madness and Sunlight on the Garden by Elizabeth Speller.

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Buy Crazy as Chocolate by Elisabeth Hyde at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Crazy as Chocolate by Elisabeth Hyde at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Crazy as Chocolate by Elisabeth Hyde at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Crazy as Chocolate by Elisabeth Hyde at Amazon.com.

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Zoë said:

I'm glad this one's worth a read because I loved The Abortionist's Daughter. And anything with chocolate in the title automatically attracts my interest too.

I know what you mean about undeveleoped endings as I've read a few books that would fall into this category recently, but I'd still rather have a great story with a dubious end than the other way round.