27 April 2012

Book Review: Nutmeg by Maria Goodin

Title: Nutmeg
Author: Maria Goodin
Publisher: Legend Press
Format: Paperback
270 pages
Genre: Fiction
Source: Publisher

Nutmeg by Maria Goodin is a charming story about a daughter's close but complicated relationship with her eccentric mother.Throughout her life, Meg has been told whimsical food-related tales by her mother, Valerie, and Meg was happy to accept the farfetched stories until she notices the shocked and bewildered reactions from other people. So Meg chooses to reject her mother's imaginary world, and decides to always think logically and to be sensible all the time.

Years later, when Meg is studying genetics and in her final year at university, she goes home to visit her mother. It soon becomes apparent that her mother is seriously ill, and Meg wonders if she should finally confront her mother about the truth behind the stories. However, her mother is still reluctant to leave her imaginary world so Meg realizes she will have to try and learn more on her own.

As Meg delves into her past, particularly about her father who she never knew, Meg begins to question her own feelings about how much she wants to know.

Meg also has to contend with pressure from her boyfriend, Mark, who insists Meg should simply demand the truth from her mother. Meg reluctantly agrees that her mother should face facts but worries about her mother's frail condition. While Meg considers this dilemna, her mother has hired a gardener, Ewan, who encourages Valerie to indulge in her imaginary world. And when Ewan tells Valerie stories from mythology, Meg is annoyed although she can see how much her mother is delighted to hear the stories.

The close mother-daughter relationship is at the heart of this gentle, feel-good novel. The mother's obsession with cooking and baking is cleverly combined with her endearing food-related tales, and  Meg discovers that there are basic truths in the fictional world that Valerie created for her.

Eventually, the search for the truth to her past leads to some surprising revelations for Meg and a new understanding about her mother's eccentric behavior and why she's imagined a fantasy world. The truth and lies are blurred but when they are unravelled, it all begins to makes sense to Meg - and to the reader.

The ending is predictable but uplifting and satisfying.

Nutmeg is Maria Goodin's first novel, and is based on a short story of the same title which was winner of the 2007 Derby Short Story Competition.

Nutmeg is a heartwarming story about love and the reasons why it's sometimes easier and kinder to tell lies rather than the truth. It's a gentle, undemanding read that is simply enchanting.

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