Sweets From Morocco by Jo Verity

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Sweets From Morocco by Jo Verity

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Fairhead
Reviewed by Sue Fairhead
Summary: A coming-of-age novel, and beyond, as a brother and sister grow up after a devastating family tragedy.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 280 Date: January 2009
Publisher: Honno Welsh Women's Press
ISBN: 978-1906784003

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Tessa and Lewis get along pretty well, for siblings. Tessa, a year older, is the clear leader; Lewis, a more dreamy and easy-going person, tends to follow her lead without much argument. So when Tessa is determined to hate their new baby brother and even tries out some childish voodoo in the hope that he might disappear, Lewis joins in.

Tragically, something happens to the baby, and their lives are changed forever. Their mother becomes very depressed, their father increasingly controlling and bad-tempered. Tessa, perhaps as a consequence, becomes more irresponsible during her teenage years, while Lewis behaves impeccably, doing well in school and supporting his parents as much as he can.

These themes continue as they continue to grow up. The book follows their lives over several decades, beginning in 1954 and ending in 2005. Not that we see every moment. Instead, the story moves forward by several years every so often. So after six chapters in 1954, when Tessa is ten, we leap forward eight years and then see her in the throes of A-levels, lust and deceit. This device works well through the book; I saw cameos of their lives, catching up briefly on what happened in the intervening years without any feeling of missing out.

The novel is character-based, and I found both Tessa and Lewis eminently believable. Their parents are rather less well developed, and their Uncle Frank something of a caricature, but that didn't matter. We see them through the eyes of their offspring, after all. There are a couple of fascinating elderly characters early in the book, who give the children 'sweets from Morocco' when they visit and also give them a glimpse into a life rather different from their own.

Their significance becomes clear later on.

On the whole I enjoyed the book, which covers many aspects of life in the latter part of the 20th century, and shows the effects of a tragedy on people of different temperaments. It also charts the problems that can arise in a relationship such as that which Tessa has with Lewis. Although there is no hint of incest, at times it's codependent and unhealthy, something that neither of them is able to see. Yet in the relationships they develop with other people, something is always missing; this too affects their lives right into their sixties.

The writing is good, and while I found I could easily put the book down - it didn't have me reading far into the night, or neglecting chores - I returned to it each evening, eager to find out what would happen next. It made me think, too, about the ways we relate to children. Tessa and Lewis are told very little about what happened in the aftermath of the family tragedy; they simply have to deal with the difference it makes to their parents, without any discussion. Perhaps that's how things were in the 1950s.

Recommended to anyone who likes more thought-provoking women's fiction than is typical of the genre.

Thanks to the publishers for sending this book.

If you enjoyed this book, you might also like to read The Saving Graces by Patricia Gaffney or Things to Make and Mend by Ruth Thomas. You might also appreciate Keep Her Quiet by Emma Curtis.

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Buy Sweets From Morocco by Jo Verity at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Sweets From Morocco by Jo Verity at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Sweets From Morocco by Jo Verity at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Sweets From Morocco by Jo Verity at Amazon.com.


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