Monday, 26 March 2012
Nutmeg - a perfect little novel
I received Maria Goodin's debut novel via the Amazon Vine programme, having heard it was already set to be translated into four languages even before publication. Published by Legend Press - a small independent publisher, I can quite see why.
I was totally enchanted by this novel which is at once funny, moving and thought-provoking.
The story hinges around the relationship between Meg and her eccentric mother, who is terminally ill. The book is a sensory delight as Meg's mother is obsessed with cooking. What's more she has never told Meg the truth about her childhood but has told her stories that fictionalise Meg's life. Meg's memories are made from her mother's stories. Most of the stories involve food - the tastes and smells of pastry and cakes, herbs and spices. Rebelling against this fictional life, Meg takes refuge in science and cold hard facts. But cold hard facts cannot tell the truth as well as fiction can, and it is this that makes the book so engrossing.
Meg's mother is endearing precisely because of her story-telling and eccentricity, something which Meg's boyfriend, the rational Mark, sees as lies and mental illness. Mark is determined to cling to his own myth of scientific sanity, and his attempts to do so mean he rides rough shod over others sensibilities. When Meg eventually finds out the truth about her childhood, she is left wondering whether the memories her mother invented for her gave her a better start in life than the truth.
The divide between fact and fiction is a slippery one, and one which Maria Goodin exploits brilliantly. So much so, that at the end of the book when Meg's mother's funeral arrives you are left wondering how much of Meg's portrayal of it is real and how much of Meg's story was "True".
Tender, funny and poignant, this has definitely been the highlight of my reading year so far, and one I shall be recommending to all my friends.
Check out Legend Press's website for an extract, or to buy a copy.