Love After Love, by Ingrid Persaud, won the Best first novel category in the Costa Book Awards on 4 January this year.
An absolute diamond of a book, this multi-faceted story mystified, moved, and made me laugh while it drew me into the lives of its characters.
A beautifully written, tender treatment of three people whose lives become intertwined, Love After Love soon lives up to its name - the characters meet love after love but find family in each other: Betty, a young widow, her son Solo, and Mr Chetan, who balances his relationship with Betty and his lovers, who are men.
Set in Trinidad, its a story about people: centring on the characters' inner thoughts, feelings and experiences as they battle their way through life's challenges.
It's also a treatment of murder and its consequences (a bit like Donna Tartt's The Secret History); and domestic abuse, loneliness, being gay in a country where it isn't legal, friendship, dabbling in the occult and cooking!
Moving between Trinidad and New York, the novel follows the lives of Betty, who is a survivor of abuse, Mr Chetan, a colleague who moves in to help her out, and Solo, Betty's son.
Mr Chetan, who feels a familial fondness for Betty and Solo, tries to be the man Betty needs, quite literally, but he can't deny his attraction to men.
Once the elephant in the room is addressed, Betty and Mr Chetan remain close, meeting other loves. Quite a lot!
As Solo grows he begins to question the circumstances of his father's death without remembering his drunk outbursts of violence and, in an attempt to leave the past behind he seeks his fortune in America, where he finds another father figure in his Uncle Hari.
Filled with fabulous vernacular from Trini, as the locals call it, this story will have you reaching for a Carribean dictionary to find out the meaning of words such as "maco", "liming", and "pum-pum shorts", lol.
Of course no story from Trinidad would be complete without a bit of cricket, and this excerpt captures the spirit beautifully:
Mr Chetan: "...from the Scotiaband Stand we had a fantastic view of the action just square of the wicket. Windies were playing India and all twenty thousand seats had people in them. I can't talk about places like Lord's or Edgbaston circket ground but I don't think they have good bacchanal like we do beyond the boundary. ...Plenty Trini flags were waving in the air. Mankind blowing whistle and horn. If a fella hit a four, or better yet, a six, the noise hit the roof. And who didn't bring any noisemaker were busy shouting about who can't catch, who sleeping at the crease, and where they find that dotish captain."
The ending of this book will surprise and shock you when it comes to its inevitable resolution.
The overall winner, Costa Book of the Year, was The Mermaid of Black Conch. We have this on order so watch this space.