Bitter in the Mouth by Monique Truong

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Bitter in the Mouth by Monique Truong

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Robert James
Reviewed by Robert James
Summary: Frustrating Southern Gothic novel is wonderfully lyrical in parts, but lacks much of a plot and the way Truong chooses to represent her central character's synesthesia makes the dialogue difficult to read. Ultimately I'd class this as a rather brave


Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 304 Date: August 2011
Publisher: Vintage
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0099474746

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Linda Hammerick, a young girl growing up in North Carolina in the late 1970's, is different. She suffers from synesthesia, tasting things when she speaks or hears words. She grows up with her great-uncle, Baby Harper, as her best friend, as his singsong voice is the only one she can hear without the accompanying tastes, and writes letters back and forth with her best friend Kelly rather than have long conversations with her.

I have to admit, I found the synesthesia element to the book a good hook to get me interested in reading it, but the way in which Truong portrayed quickly irritated me. She follows each word with the taste associated with, so we get dialogue like DeAnne cannedcranberrysauce wants saltedbutter us to drive cannedbakedbeans to Boiling parsley Springs lemonJell-O. This is bearable with the sparse dialogue in the first half, but in a couple of comparatively dialogue-heavy pages near the end of the book had me having to break from reading it for a lie down!

So, the first half is significantly better that the second part, perhaps because Truong is a lyrical writer who can clearly describe people and places very well. There's some enjoyable bits here, to be fair – Baby Harper wasn't a fat man, but he ate like a fat man. They're just too spread out, and they're almost instead of a plot. Things do happen, but at an incredibly slow pace, and nothing's really interesting enough to get the reader coming back for more. I also found both the big reveal at the middle of the book and the ending to be rather ineffective.

All in all, not really one I feel able to recommend, although Truong's style of writing is something I'd like to sample more of without the distraction of the clumsy dialogue.

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

Further reading suggestion: While the ultimate Southern Gothic novel of To Kill A Mockingbird is almost certainly the best recommendation in this genre, I'd also like to throw one in for the Caster Chronicles – Beautiful Creatures and Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, which are so well-written that they can be enjoyed by everyone, not just the teens they're aimed at, and which capture the small-town atmosphere of Gatlin wonderfully. You might also enjoy The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel.

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