I really enjoyed Spilt Milk, Black Coffee, though it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s a simple enough book which plays havoc with tenses as it gets to grip with its two principal narrative voices and the chronology of the story, and it’s both funny and moving.
Helen Cross has based the plot around the tabloid news story of a woman who went on holiday to Greece (or Spain), leaving her 11 year old daughter home alone. In the press she was treated as a caricature, a typical modern case of selfish abandonment. Helen Cross fleshes out the details of Jackie’s character by showing her from the point of view of her abandoned daughter, and through the eyes of a Pakistani colleague. These two characters are interesting: Elle, the daughter, is torn between her father, with his new, very normal wife, and her chaotic mother; Amir is in love with Jackie, and in conflict with his family, and the responsibilities he feels towards them and their traditions.
The story begins as Jackie is about to get married for a third time, and the alternating points of view unravel the story and show us more of Jackie, and especially more of both Amir and Elle. I have to say I do worry when a book I’m reading has this, from the Daily Mail, on its cover: “empathic, memorable, defiantly beautiful.” It was all these things, but I think the Mail has a more prurient interest: a quick google search on the theme brought up these two related articles. It’s a newspaper I dislike: xenophobic, royalist, conservative. It didn’t spoil the book though!