Friday, 15 March 2013

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

review by Maryom

"1791: When seven-year-old Irish orphan Lavinia is transported to Virginia to work in the kitchen of a wealthy plantation owner, she is absorbed into the life of the kitchen house and becomes part of the family of black slaves whose fates are tied to the plantation. 
 But Lavinia's skin will always set her apart, whether she wishes it or not. And as she grows older, she will be torn between the life that awaits her as a white woman and the people she knows as kin."

The Kitchen House is an interesting, informative tale set in late 18th/early 19th century Virginia that brings the people and social conditions of the time to life.This isn't the sort of story that I would normally pick up but having started to read, and got past an initial problem with the style of story-telling, I found it really engrossing. Lavinia herself is a rather naive girl - even when she grows up and marries - but this plot device helps explain plantation conditions to the reader without hampering the story. Having been brought up in Ireland, Lavinia isn't used to the distinctions between whites and blacks, free and slaves that she encounters in her new life - the fundamental fact of slave life, that people are mere goods to be used and disposed of at the whim of another person, is something she never really seems to grasp.  As she grows she finds herself torn between the white world, to which she belongs by colour of skin, and the family that she's become part of among the slaves.

Although mainly told from Lavinia's point of view, the shorter section seeing life from the point of view of Belle, half-cast daughter of the plantation owner. Once the adored granddaughter of the house, now hidden away from the owner's wife in the kitchen house, her fortunes change with the lives of her owners. Belle is more aware of the harsh realities of life and through her the reader sees things that are kept hidden form Lavinia.

Perhaps because Lavinia spends more time among them, the black slaves are the better drawn, more individual characters - the wealthy whites fall more into stereotypes of good or bad owners and overseers.

A really enjoyable read that doesn't set out to preach but still exposes the evils of slavery.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Doubleday
Genre - adult fiction, historical fiction
Buy The Kitchen House from Amazon

1 comment: