Book mark: Love Tastes Like Strawberries by Rosamund Haden

Book mark_Loves Tastes Like StrawberriesLove Tastes Like Strawberries opens with an obituary of the painter Ivor Woodall. After his death, his partner Tony organises an exhibition of Ivor’s most recent portraits. All members of Ivor’s Friday life drawing classes receive special invitations to the opening. In all the addressees the invitations trigger uncomfortable memories of events from a distant and more recent past. Haden reveals their stories through the perspectives of several of the class participants. The web of intrigue tightens, forcing the characters to confront what haunts them. Alternating between present-day Cape Town, Rwanda of the time of the genocide, and timeless Greece, the novel portrays the precarious ties which bind people to one another across decades. Haden’s prose is smooth and lyrical, carrying the reader along. She explores seemingly insignificant incidents and gestures that can have far-reaching consequences for those involved, and conveys startling insights about loss, grief, and longing.

Love Tastes Like Strawberries
by Rosamund Haden
Kwela, 2014

An edited version of this book mark appeared in the Cape Times on 22 August 2014, p. 10.

Review
After her highly acclaimed debut The Tin Church a decade ago, Rosamund Haden returns with her second novel for adult audiences, Love Tastes Like Strawberries, which opens with an obituary. When the painter Ivor Woodall dies, his partner Tony Fox organises an exhibition of Woodall’s most recent portraits and extends a special invitation to the opening to all members of Woodall’s Friday life drawing classes.

As the invitations reach the individual artists whom Woodall had taught, each triggers uncomfortable memories of events from the distant or more recent past. The sisters Françoise and Dudu, Rwandan refugees, return to Cape Town to find their feet again after Dudu’s reckless act of stealing a car. It is Françoise’s portrait that features on the exhibition invites. Françoise is hoping to reunite with Timothy, a book seller and writer of obituaries. But Timothy seems to be missing. His friend Stella is also searching for him. She needs to reconcile with the events of a Greek summer holiday long past and the tragic death of her mother. When her mother drives over the edge of an abyss, Stella inherits her house and with it many haunting reminders of the holiday when they both fell under the spell of a promising young artist. Now in her early thirties Stella falls again, for Luke: “there’s something about him that’s so magnetic, so addictive. He should have a warning attached to him,” Jude, one of Luke’s many lovers, warns Stella. But Stella’s reasons for wanting to seduce Luke are complicated: she desires not only him, but also revenge. And Jude, perhaps the most talented of them all, has her own plan how to steal everyone’s show.

All of them have different reasons for attending Ivor Woodall’s classes. The meetings and ensuing parties gradually reveal the undercurrents of all the relationships Ivor’s students spin around their small circle until the web of intrigue and hidden agendas becomes too suffocating for some to bear and comes to a startling conclusion.

Alternating between present-day Cape Town, Rwanda of the time of the genocide, and timeless beaches of Greece, Love Tastes Like Strawberries explores the ties which bind people to one another across decades.

Haden’s prose is smooth and lyrical, it carries you along. Her characters are believable, even if theirs are very different to one’s own experiences. She explores the small, seemingly insignificant, incidents and gestures in life that can have far-reaching consequences for those implicated. There were times where I felt the narrative did not explore those moments deeply enough, and yet Haden manages to convey many unsettling insights about the way we deal with loss, grief, longing, and “foolishness that is painful”.

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