Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 5, 2021

How the One-armed Sister Sweeps Her House, by Cherie Jones

Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize, How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House is a brutal expose of crime, extreme violence, intergenerational abuse and misogyny on the Caribbean island of Barbados.  Shattering any illusions fostered by the BBC TV series Death in Paradise, this hard-hitting novel is definitely not for the faint-hearted.  The traumas are relentless: incest, rape, infanticide, brutal beatings of intense savagery (male-on-male and male-on-female), murder, robbery and inept, corrupt policing.

The story takes place on Baxter Beach where the wealthy have their homes and the poor scratch a living braiding hair, cleaning houses, minding children, and pandering to the sexual desires of those who can pay for whatever they like.  The central character Lala marries young and unwisely to escape a tedious future, and she submits to atrocious violence from her husband Adan because she doesn’t have any other choices.  All the males but Dr Thompson and the murdered Peter are brutal and exploitative and incapable of self-control.  Tone’s tenderness towards Lala doesn’t alter the fact that he’s a very violent man too.  All the characters are defined by violence, one way or another, and none of them are well-developed characters because they are only in the novel to further the author’s agenda.

It could have been a novel that exposes the inequality that seems to be a feature of island life, but that gets lost in the violence.

This was an impulse buy triggered by the title that seemed familiar, and it’s not a book that I would recommend.  I don’t think we need to read books that wallow in extreme violence to know that it exists and to care about that, and I’m not interested in books with one-dimensional misogynistic male characters.

Author: Cherie Jones
Title: How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House
Publisher: Tinder Press (Headline) 2021
ISBN: 9781472268785, pbk, 312 pages
Source: Personal library, Blarney Books and Art, Port Fairy, $32.99


Responses

  1. I’ll pass.

    Like

    • Wise decision.
      I can’t really explain to myself why I kept reading it.
      Something to do with being too warm and comfortable in bed to get up for something else? Not entirely. I suppose I felt a sense of obligation not to shy away from unpleasant truths, even when I’m not convinced that this representation of men and/or the culture is truthful.

      Like

  2. Having recently read a short story collection that featured so much brutality I am definitely not in the market for this right now! What a shame the violence overshadowed everything for you, it sounded promising.

    Like

    • I remember your review.
      You know, I am really, really sick of all this violence, it’s grotesque,

      Liked by 1 person

  3. One I can safely ignore now. There was something about the title that I found off-putting but now you’ve told me about the content, I’m certain its one i don’t want to touch

    Like

    • You’ve reminded me of something I meant to say about the title. It comes from a folk story told to scare girls away from going into the old military tunnels i.e. if you do, something bad will happen to you. (Like the original Little Red Riding Hood where she gets eaten up).
      Feminists of my era were well aware of these stories: they were meant to make girls fearful, to sap their courage, to be afraid of the unnameable, to discourage venturing away from what they were meant to do i.e. stay home and be good wives and mothers.
      Maybe I’m reading the book wrong, but because Lala does go into the tunnels literally and metaphorically, the book seems to imply that she should have accepted her fate as a woman rather than try for something else.
      And there is no Sisterhood in this book. Women can do amazing things if there’s a real and strong sisterhood, one that breaks across colour and class to lend psychological, moral and practical support when it’s needed.

      Like

  4. Thank you for reading this so I don’t have to…. sounds grim… We don’t need to portray such extreme violence to know it’s out there and needs to be dealt with. I can’t see what this book would achieve.

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    • I’m baffled as to why the Women’s Prize is enamoured of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I have a copy of this, but am not convinced I’m going to like it. Sounds brutal for the sake of it.

    Like

    • Well, perhaps you will find something in it that I have missed. Obviously the Women’s Prize judges thought it was worthy of shortlisting, but as for me, I’m trying to put it out of my mind as quickly as possible.

      Like


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