Publication Date: 18th August 2022
I always enjoy a book about a difficult mother and the tag line of ‘Meet Mama. A good mother? Or a good liar….’ drew me to Bad Fruit by Ella King.
Set in Greenwich London over one hot summer, we meet 18 year old Lily, daughter of a Chinese mother and English pathologist father. Lily’s mother is an extremely difficult woman and then some! She’s volatile and selfish and explosive. She’s difficult and cruel and the family pretty much tiptoe around her, none more so than Lily.
Lily has older siblings, sister Julia and brother Jacob. Julia is the incendiary child who ignites the flames of fury in her mother whilst Jacob keeps his distance. Both have moved out leaving Lily behind to handle their mother. Lily has been moulded into a miniature version of her mother and Julia likes to call her Mamas girl, Mama’s doll. Lily is the least Chinese looking of the three siblings so their mother makes her dye her brown hair jet black,use makeup to change her skin colour and contacts to change her eye colour. She wears her mother’s favourite pink clothes and cooks her mother’s favourite meals, diligently completing lists of tasks her mother leaves for her whilst she’s at work.
Lily’s father is somewhat beleaguered and tries to avoid his wife’s raging tempers despite being the cause of them in a lot of cases. Lily is the only person who can pre-empt the rages and uses tried and tested methods of diffusing her mother’s anger by distracting her with cooking traditional meals from her childhood in China and encouraging her to talk about the memories she has of this time.
But Lily begins to have disturbing flashbacks which start small, smashed glass, milk between toes, a woman collapsing against a chair…… these flashbacks mean nothing to her and bring on debilitating panic attacks that she struggles to control.
But in investigating these flashbacks Lily starts to learn more and more about her mother, uncovering secrets and lies with potentially devastating consequences.
The opening of this novel is chaotic! In a great way. There’s a lot going on and you are aware that this family has some huge issues right from the off! My mind was whirring with what on earth could have made this family and particularly, this mother, so toxic and dysfunctional!
It is a very layered exploration of trauma and how this filters down through generations gaining levels of toxicity as it goes. It’s a difficult often tense read and there are some shocking and chaotic moments. I really felt for Lily and her situation as a young girl wanting to break free from her childhood home but also being left behind as the one who has to ‘handle mother’.
I read this book in one 24 hour period and couldn’t look away from the car crash realities of this dysfunctional family. Loved it!
Thank you to Susanna Peden and HarperCollins for my review copy.
See you all soon.