The Pink House at Appleton by Jonathan Braham

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The Pink House at Appleton by Jonathan Braham

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A well-plotted story set in Jamaica in the 1950 and with such a good sense of location that you can smell the rum. Recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: November 2011
Publisher: Matador
ISBN: 978-1848767454

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When we first meet Boyd Longfellow Brookes he's musing over the fact that - however much you might wish otherwise - sounds, smells or small details can evoke the most painful of memories in full Technicolor. On this particular afternoon it was the music - Saint-Saens Violin Concerto No 3 in B minor - which brought back the scene which regularly invaded his dreams and his waking hours. Once again he was the eight-year-old boy whose father was thrashing him with a leather strap whilst his mother wept and Papa demanded to know if Boyd had molested the young daughter of a neighbour. He didn't even know the meaning of molest but the expressions on the faces of those around him told him all he needed to know.

We drift back to Jamaica in the late nineteen fifties and Boyd was the second son of Harold and Victoria Brookes, a black Jamaican family who had achieved some status in the community. Harold Brookes is the scientist at the Appleton Estate rum distillery and his sole aim in life is to bring up his three children with the proper values and principles. It's his manra. Everything else is of secondary importance - even his wife's happiness must be subjugated to his will. He won't allow her to work, to walk anywhere off the property in which they live: she's a virtual prisoner at the Pink House. Maids who give even the slightest hint of not being satisfactory are sacked and sent packing. There is just one person who finds it impossible to live up to these ideals - and that's Brookes himself. There was an incident with a woman in the area from which they have since moved, but Brookes has put what happened (and the results) from his mind. The gossips have not been quite so forgiving - and one of them is Victoria Brookes' own sister. And now he's fixated on the (white) wife of a neighbour, who might not be averse to his attentions.

I found the book just a little difficult to get into at first - it's a little heavy on description - but once Braham gets into his stride the story holds you and doesn't let go. Braham was born in Jamaica and spend what he describes as his formative years at the Appleton Sugar Estate. I hope that the memories were not as painful to him as they were to Boyd as Braham does a superb job of evoking a Jamaica on the brink of independence and the life on the estate with all its social layers. I could smell the rum - and the poverty of some of the people at the lower end of the pecking order. It has the wonderful feel of someone who knows their subject and is not attempting to shoehorn in every last piece of research.

But the real pleasure is in the story and the characters. Braham has a talent for fleshing people out and even the maid who makes but a fleeting appearance (she stole some fish for her family...) stays in the mind. I loved Boyd's mother, Victoria, unwilling to believe what her sister tells her about her husband and sure that it could all work out if only Harold would just bend a little, but it's Boyd whom you'll worry about, who will stay in your mind. He's hypersensitive and obsessed with the seven-year-old daughter of the neighbour his father pursues, the Susan whom he will be accused of molesting. Braham ramps the tension up slowly until the inevitable explosion. It's a superb exploration of the damage which parents do to their children in the name of love. I'd like to thank the publisher for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

For more from Jamaica we can recommend Huracan by Diana McCaulay.

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