Author: Desiree Reynolds

Finished on: 15 November 2017

Where did I get this book: Sent by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ So begins Tolstoy’s epic novel Anna Karenina. And it is tension, hypocrisy, complexity and lies: all the things that make an unhappy family unhappy, that lie at the heart of Seduce, the 2013 debut novel of Sheffield-based Desiree Reynolds.

The book has a deceptively simple premise: we’re at the funeral wake for the eponymous fish seller and prostitute, and her friends, family and enemies have gathered to grieve, gossip and judge each other and the dead lady. Through the various first person narratives of these people that love, hate and are frightened of her, we piece together the life of this formidable woman. We even hear from Seduce herself, attending her own funeral from beyond the grave.

We delve back into the lives of her mother and grandmother, learn how she came to be a ‘lampi’, the name given to both the fish sellers and the prostitutes who often do both jobs, and twist and turn our way through revelations about her family towards an ending that is nothing short of beautiful. The story is bookended with reflections on what a soul might be which manage to be both vivid and moving, whilst avoiding sentimentality completely.

Set on the fictional Church Island in the Caribbean, the book is written in patois. Like getting into a too-hot bath, at first it seems too much: I am going to struggle with this; I don’t know if I can cope. But then it becomes enjoyable and even strangely comforting. The language is part of the joy of the book; full immersion into this world. It has a poetic, soothing quality, despite the sometimes bleak subject matter; I found myself luxuriating in long soaks in Reynolds’s vernacular, often enjoying the words as much as the story.

This is the sort of book that makes all other books seem boring. Reynolds covers a huge amount of ground, and with multiple narrators who each have their own unique voice it’s a wonder the story feels as coherent as it does. But the plot is handled masterfully; the twists are given just enough foreshadowing to make it all feel satisfying. It is a treat to be rewarded with such a gratifying plot in a book written in an unconventional style.

As the weather in the UK takes a turn for the cold, wet and miserable, you could do a lot worse than submerge yourself in the hot, bewitching world of Seduce.

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