Throughout the pandemic, reading has become a safe haven for many. We have once again partnered with The Reading Agency to support six UK-based reading groups whose members have benefited from discussing books, engaging in some much-needed escapism, and enjoying one another’s (virtual!) company despite the difficulties we’ve faced throughout the pandemic.

We are delighted to share a review from one of our six reading groups, The Femminentsa book club of five women from the same family. They created the group in early 2020 as a way to stay connected, explore imaginary worlds and discover more about each other through multiple lockdowns as they, like all of us, have been unable to see each other in person. After reading their allocated book from the shortlist, Cherie Jones’ debut novel How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House, the group has reported back to us, and we can’t wait to share their enjoyment.

The novel, especially the ending, sparked some debate amongst the family: ‘We had a fierce debate about the ending; some of us found it too conveniently happy whereas others felt it was a nod to the myth that gives the book its title and the idealism was therefore deliberate.’

However, this division did not prevent them from enjoying the novel or recognising the masterful way Cherie Jones handles difficult topics, which was a recurring theme throughout their reviews. Read on to find out what they said!

‘I loved this book. So much happens in the first few chapters, that’s all completely unexpected. There was time to reflect on each character, with crucial details being teased out at just the right moments. I felt huge amounts of sympathy for Lala, even when I felt frustrated at her decisions and difficulty accepting help. This is a testament to the writing and depiction of domestic abuse; the fear and manipulation make it so much harder to leave.’

‘Cherie Jones’ sparse and devastating prose creates characters that feel so true to life – even when their lives are so different from my own. She tackles vast themes, from race to class, by focusing on the minutiae of individual experiences, actions, and reactions. The ending struck me as a nod to the mythic structure that gives the story its title – unrealistic, perhaps, but also inviting the reader to find their own meaning.’

‘Thick with pace and suspense, the plot lurches between decades and storytellers. The minimal moments of tenderness are a welcome relief. The mounting complexities and brutal scenes often make for difficult reading – further stressing the characters’ inability to escape their traumatic pasts. This is beautifully done and made for a uniquely ominous storyline about the very worst that reality and humans can be.’

‘This book took me to the darkest of places, and back into the light, over and over again. Jones made me wince, squirm, and grimace in distress in places, but this made the moments of pleasure and light even more joyful to read. That the characters could retrieve a sense of their own humanity whilst enduring such awful, ceaseless treatment, by individuals, by their community, by society, fostered a sense of much-needed relief.’

‘Cherie Jones handles the subjects of trauma, violence, and misogyny with great skill. The story is powerful – at times difficult to read – but as readers, we witness its horrors. Each of her characters reveals their truth in well-placed backstories throughout the narrative.’

We hope you enjoyed this selection of reviews from The Femminents! You can buy Cherie Jones’ How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House and the other five shortlisted books from here > > >

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