I was invited to participate in the blog tour for How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House, a brilliant debut novel by Bajan writer Cherie Jones.
*Trigger/content warnings for this novel: domestic violence, sexual abuse, infant death, murder
How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House is a contemporary debut novel set in Baxter’s Beach, Barbados. It revolves around three women; Wilma, Lala and Mira. The book begins with Wilma telling her granddaughter Lala the story of the one-armed sister, a cautionary tale about what happens to girls who disobey their mothers. The three women’s relationships are characterised by violence in some way, which is what drives the story. Wilma spends much of her time looking after her elderly, sick husband; Lala loses her newborn baby in tragic circumstances and Mira’s husband, a rich white tourist, is brutally murdered in front of her.
The book is a riveting tale of patriarchal abuse and survival that centres the lives of ordinary people on the island. Jones addresses several themes including poverty, domestic violence, sexual abuse, crime and tourism. It’s a difficult and often heartbreaking read which some readers may find triggering at times. Jones doesn’t hold back when addressing difficult topics. This novel plainly shows the extent to which patriarchal violence impacts women’s lives, not just physically but on a deeper psychological level too.
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How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House highlights how women enable patriarchal violence against other women, even without meaning to. Women and girls are often expected to minimise chances of experiencing violence at the hands of men, yet tend to be blamed when that violence is inflicted upon them. For the female protagonists in this novel, the men in their lives that one would expect to protect and care for them more than anyone else, are the ones who harm them the most.
Jones’ clear, considered prose and varied sentence composition make this novel a pleasurable and addictive read. Her writing often exudes a free-flowing, stream of consciousness-like quality that completely immerses you inside the characters’ minds. Jones writes in the third-person and brings each character to life beautifully. As the story progresses, we learn more about them and how their lives interconnect. The story mainly focuses on the three women (Lala in particular), but I also loved the chapters that gave us the perspective of the male protagonists; Lala’s husband Adan, his friend Tone and Beckles, a local policeman. They’re all so well-rounded and added layers to the story.
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Jones compellingly highlights the contrast between the characters’ everyday realities and the romanticised notions of paradise that are widely associated with Caribbean islands like Barbados. Wealthy tourists can indulge in their paradise fantasies and have the time of their lives while being completely oblivious or indifferent to the struggles and hardships of locals.
The levels of tension and realism coupled with a fast pace, excellent writing and complex, four-dimensional characters make this a powerful page-turner. It often felt like I was reading a thriller. I found myself rooting for all the women, especially Lala, and constantly wanted to know what happens next.
I adore this book and can’t wait to see what Cherie Jones writes next. It’s quite uncomfortable but so worth it. It reminds me a bit of Nicole Dennis-Benn’s debut Here Comes the Sun. If you read and enjoyed that, I highly recommend How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House. It held me captive from start to finish and will definitely remain in my mind rent-free for the foreseeable future.
How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House is out now and published by Tinder Press.
*Thank you to Tinder Press and Headline for gifting me a review copy of this novel.