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Sex and Stravinsky by Barbara Trapido - Review

Monday, April 11, 2022


After I read Brother of the More Famous Jack right at the beginning of this year, I went on to the Barnsley library website to search for other books by her and placed a hold on one. I was patient about it arriving, but it didn't, so when I was in Penistone library for craft club I asked the librarian what was happening, and she realised the book in question was missing. The only other copy was one in the readers group lots - these tend to be collections of at least 7 copies of the same book that are loaned out to the readers groups. My own book club started out as one of these so we sometimes do get these collections to read, so I'm familiar with them. The librarian said she could reserve one for me, I just had to promise to get it back to the library quickly. As I go fairly often, this wasn't a problem. It does explain the strange label on the book though!

This book is a total saga, it encompasses forty years of the lives of several people. It's one of those where you follow several people and then it all comes together in clever ways at the end. I love books like these because I think it's so clever of the writer to keep threads alive and to weave them all together at the end. I am a writer but I don't write like that at all so I'm always in awe of people who do! The actual action takes place over only a few weeks in 1995, but as I say the story encompasses years and years and many people and families. 

Now, before I review properly, I do have to say that a couple of things really jarred with me given that the book is mostly set in 1995. I was eleven years old then, just a year younger than Zoe, one of our main characters, so I remember it well and remember being her age. Firstly, Zoe is "the last in her class" to have a mobile phone because her parents won't allow her to have one. This doesn't ring true at all to me. The first person in my class to have a mobile didn't have one until 1999, and when I left school in 2000 was when I had one for the first time. So this kind of annoyed me because I just didn't believe it. Secondly, Zoe's mother Caroline is looking for her sister some way into the novel, and finds her church newsletter on the internet. I know people were using the internet in 1995, but I'm just not sure that a pastor's wife would have been uploading her church newsletter for the world. I felt like these were more like 2010 happenings (when the book was published) and they did annoy me. 

But! Those things aside, I did really like the book. At the beginning, Caroline and Josh meet. They are both graduate students in England, but Josh has grown up in South Africa and Caroline is Australian. They start a relationship and have modest plans for their future - Caroline wants to buy a small Victorian terraced house and have four children. On their wedding day, Caroline's mum and sister come for the occasion, and insist that the newlyweds give up their bed in a decommissioned double decker bus for them. Caroline and Josh end up in a tent, Josh beginning to understand the type of person his new mother in law is. Their baby Zoe is born and they're about to buy a house when Caroline's father dies and her mother moves to England. She demands a house and a monthly allowance from Caroline, having apparently been left no money. Janet, Caroline's sister, has cut off all contact. For the next twelve years, Caroline and Josh live on the bus and scrimp and save to keep Caroline's mum happy. They are on the cusp of finally being able to afford a house when Zoe goes off to France on a French exchange and Josh goes back to South Africa for the first time in nearly thirty years for a conference.

I'm telling you this in linear fashion, but the book doesn't do that at all. At the beginning Zoe is heading to France, where she is staying with a boy, Gerard, and which goes horribly wrong right from the beginning. I didn't enjoy either of my French exchanges so I definitely felt for poor Zoe here. I think then we head to South Africa with Josh. He is the adopted son of two secular Jewish people, Bernie and Ida, who fought against the apartheid laws and who had to leave South Africa very quickly when Josh was leaving for England. He was in love with a girl called Hattie back then, who gave up her dream of being a ballet dancer because of her wayward brother. They happen to meet in South Africa, where Hattie is married to a rich man and who she has three children with, the youngest of whom is still at home and completely baffling to Hattie. 

I did guess where the book would end up but there were still a couple of things I didn't guess at all. I loved how it all came together, and it was easy to feel sympathy for most of the characters. I'm giving this five out of five and I'll definitely read something else by her. She's such a good storyteller!


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