The Kitchen House

Lavinia is a seven-year-old Irish orphan indentured to the master of a plantation. She is sent to work in the kitchen house and cared for by the slaves there, including the master’s illegitimate daughter, Belle. The story is narrated by Lavinia and Belle in turn. Belle, as an adult and a slave, sees and understands events in ways Lavinia cannot. Privy to secrets of the big house, the kitchen house, and the slave quarters, Lavinia grows into an observant and strong yet strangely passive and acquiescent young woman. The characters surrounding her are engaging and interesting people who occasionally utter phrases of such sudden tenderness that it brought tears to my eyes—when Papa George explains that Lavinia can be a daughter to him, but can never be like the others in the kitchen house, for example. As with any novel of slaves in the South the book contains dark undercurrents and many scenes of violence, but nothing I haven’t encountered before and, while unsettling and upsetting, those scenes are not overdone. The prose is smooth and assured, comparable to Philippa Gregory’s magnificent Wideacre trilogy in style but not in length. The author claims to have tapped into a story she felt compelled to write and let her characters dictate their own actions, a guiding principle that worked well for her. Several of the characters may appear in a future novel as well. I particularly liked that the ending combined a healthy mixture of happy events, tragedies, and missed opportunities. This was a thoughtful and delightful book and I look forward to the author’s next novel. In the meantime, it has inspired me to return to the world of Barbara Hambly’s superb eight volume Benjamin January series set in 1830s New Orleans—apparently several more volumes will be forthcoming.

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  1. Pingback: The Kitchen House – Kathleen Grissom – Book Review | Pink Sheep Cafe

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