Spilt Milk, Black Coffee by Helen Cross

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Spilt Milk, Black Coffee by Helen Cross

Buy Spilt Milk, Black Coffee by Helen Cross at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jo Heffer
Reviewed by Jo Heffer
Summary: Jackie Johnson's life is a mess. She flits between different men and unsuitable relationships that can only end in disaster. Her friend and colleague, Amir, and her twelve year old daughter Elle, can only watch this spiral of self-destruction and hopefully be around to help pick up the pieces.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: May 2009
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
ISBN: 978-0747597902

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Reading Spilt Milk, Black Coffee is a little like watching Big Brother or The Jeremy Kyle Show. It's compelling but you don't really know why. It's probably because the main character, Jackie Johnson, a forty something shop assistant, would not seem at all out of place on that type of show. At the start of the book her friends are waiting for her to show up at her third wedding - to a man she hardly knows. She has a string of disastrous relationships behind her including one with a teenage boy and another with a coach driver approaching retirement. She has recently achieved 'celebrity status' after jetting off on holiday for a week leaving her twelve year old daughter Elle to fend for herself thus ensuring a great deal of coverage in the tabloid newspapers. As you can see, she would be an ideal guest on a morning talk show.

Despite all this there is something quite likeable about Jackie and although there are many of her friends and family who would love to wash their hands of her, they find it impossible to do so. This is particularly true for her daughter Elle and her colleague Amir who both try very hard to find the good in her. It is also through the eyes of these two characters that the story is told, with chapters alternating between the two. I liked the way this enabled the reader to see Jackie from two entirely different perspectives.

Amir starts off as the storyteller. His world, growing up in a strict Muslim family, could not be more different from Jackie's. He is under pressure to find a suitable bride but somehow no one compares to Jackie, although he can not quite admit to himself that he is falling in love with her. As the novel unfolds, we see how he supports her and rescues her time and again much to the disgust of his family. It's obvious that poor Amir is in a no win situation and is never going to be entirely happy without upsetting one or more person.

I particularly found myself caught up in the chapters told by Elle. She has had to grow up very quickly and is remarkably mature for a twelve year old. She spends most of her time living with her dad but her loyalties are really torn between the two parents. In some ways she comes across as lonely and vulnerable but at other times she appears very strong. The way she tells the story is extremely moving especially when she just longs to spend time with her mum. The sad thing is that there are probably a lot of girls like Elle and not just in fiction.

You get to know Amir and Elle very well through the book and I found myself warming to both characters. Having read the book though, I still don't know what I make of Jackie. She is the sort of person who you might describe as her 'own worst enemy' and she definitely does not seem to have any control over her actions. I don't particularly like her and I'm glad I don't know her but there is something strangely fascinating about her.

The style of the book feels a bit random and chaotic – just like Jackie's life! The story moves between different events at different times so you are never quite sure where you are. At first I found this quite difficult, but after a while I just found myself going with the flow and really enjoying the haphazard nature of the book.

There is some emphasis on the differences and tensions between the Asian and British cultures which provides an interesting background to the story. This isn't the main thrust of the book though. This is a story about human nature and about what happens when the human in question is not strong enough or wise enough to take responsibility for their own actions.

When I started reading, I was not sure whether I was going to enjoy this book but I did even though it is probably quite unlike anything I have read before.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If Spilt Milk, Black Coffee appeals to you, you might want to take a look at My Best Friend's Life by Shari Low.

Buy Spilt Milk, Black Coffee by Helen Cross at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Spilt Milk, Black Coffee by Helen Cross at Amazon.co.uk

Buy Spilt Milk, Black Coffee by Helen Cross at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Spilt Milk, Black Coffee by Helen Cross at Amazon.com.


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