Bitter Chocolate – Lesley Lokko

This is a story of three young women seemingly all unrelated but are known by each other for small parts of the book and not known for a greater part of the book where they are trying to find something. Something that makes their life complete. Each searching for their own destiny. Lesley Lokko, who is a new author to me, weaves their own individual tales and towards the end all women seem to pass together.

For me the major background of the story and the title Bitter Chocolate is not one of the confectionary varieties but that of the colour of the skin. It is a story about three women who very different reasons are all touched by the colour of their skin.

Melanie Miller is the daughter of a famous aging rock star who has girlfriends younger than his daughter. She is lost in life and just wants attention, so she seeks it everywhere she goes but never fulfils any real satisfaction. If she has something then the challenge is over and she seeks something else.  Her morality is tested many times, but in the end all she holds dear is seemingly not enough.

Laure is the daughter of Belle who disgraced herself by having Laure in the first place. Her father is unknown, so Laure is left with her Grandmother to be brought up and be reminded of how she does not fit in because of the wrong colour of her skin, not the right colour chocolate. Laure follows the same path as her mother including following her to America where she experiences the difficulties in trusting men and forging a life for herself with very little. She achieves this through her relationship with Daniel, two people together who should not be in the eyes of everyone around them. But then the past finds her out and she is never allowed to explain, although keeping the truth to her was her only option and defence mechanism. Laure has to start again, for the third time in her life and this time she finds something she never knew she had a creative, flair for colour and design and a whole new world is literally opened up to her.

Ameline knew Laure from birth; she was the stay-with a cross between a companion and a servant. They shared everything in fact they considered themselves sisters in all but blood. As events changed for Laure, Ameline realised if she wanted anything to happen to her she would have to get out of the role she was in and do something with her life. She escapes her life and ends up more or less in a similar sort of role as a companion and servant. But then she meets someone that changes her life forever and she realises that perhaps being at home with the one you love with all your heart is the best option.

This book is about the quest for love, how marriages are not always as they seem to outsiders and how people fit in to the lives of others when many think they do not belong. Lokko writes about the struggle these women have, in particular Laure and Ameline. They struggle because of the skin colour, their lack of knowledge, their language barriers and where they come from. Melanie does not struggle, she lacks nothing but struggles with what she has got she does not have the barriers that the other two women have endured. For this I disliked Melanie the most, and my passage about the character above says it all. At times when she got under my skin for insipid behaviour I felt that she need to experience the lives of the other characters and then perhaps she would appreciate all that she had. I know some reviews feel that they wanted to know what happened to Melanie in the end, but I did not. I use the expressions she made her bed, so she can lie in it!  For me her purpose was to show the contrast between lives and women. Those who have it all and those who work damned hard to get it.

Laure and Ameline were rich characters and this was emphasised more by the settings that Lokko uses in her book. We are taken on a tour of the world almost. Haiti to Chicago, Chelsea (London) to Los Angles, Chicago to Chelsea, Haiti to the Malvern Hills and back again. Chelsea to Hackney to Ghana and Beirut and Paris thrown in as well. Lokko concentrates very much the colour, smell and architecture of these places and from having read about the author I now know she is drawing on her own experiences and that is what brings the book so much life and colour. The passages set in Ghana were so eloquently written, that it was like watching a documentary on the television about the place. The political turmoil and troubles of Haiti were not ignored but treated with the reverence it deserved.

This is a mighty tome and it moves nicely between the characters and maintains a steady pace throughout. I agree with other reviews that the ending is somewhat abrupt, it is the sort of book that basically could have kept on going, there was so much more to learn about all three women. I was also a bit sceptical about their lives intersected at times, but because for a lot of the book this was just about three women and their own stories. The book captures you and makes you think; it is a while since I have read a book that you think is probably meant to be chic-lit but actually is more realistic and stark as well as romantic. Well worth a read!

I have never read this author before, but I am going to find out about her other books. I think I really connected with the colour and feel of the places she was describing and the way she deals with such issues as colour and creed in such a sensitive way.

It was a large thick book almost 600 pages and did take me a while to read, mainly because the writing was quite small. I always am intrigued by the cover of the books and both the covers shown in this post probably tell you immediately different things about the book without having picked it up. I picked the second one but  now having read the book the first one seems oh so appropriate as well.