Dear Fellow Reader,
When my book club pick for October was Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford, I had never heard of it. Then I read the cover and discovered that Jamie Ford’s other book was Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. I had read that book and while I don’t remember that much about it, I knew that I enjoyed it.
Okay, let me tell you that Love and Other Consolation Prizes is dark. There is no way around it. The main character starts in abject poverty in China. He finds out later in life that the smell he associates with his mother is the smell of someone starving to death. He leaves China at the age of five with an “uncle” – not a real uncle – a man his mother sold him to in an attempt to save him. His mother gave him her only possession.
“She merely placed a filigreed hairpin in his hand and folded his tiny fingers around the tarnished copper and jade phoenix that represented the last of their worldly possessions”
After telling the story of how Ernest got to the United States in 1902, the book moves back and forth between 1909 and 1962 – the two times that the World’s Fair was in Seattle. Ernest has not had an easy life. He was not supposed to survive the trip to Seattle but he did. Ernest is a survivor although when he is young he often doesn’t even understand what Is going on. When the book shifts to 1962, we learn that Ernest is married and has two daughters. Ernest’s wife is sick – she is living with his daughter because she doesn’t know who he is and she doesn’t want to be with him. Ernest is living in a drab hotel by himself.
Going back and forth through time tells the story on Ernest and his two loves, Maisie and Fahn and what happened to each of them in 1909 and where they are in 1962.
There is no way to get around the darkness of this story. It is the seamy side of the story of Ernest’s survival. From the opening scene where his mother is killing his newborn sister to the most positive way the story could end, there are terrible things that happen to and around Ernest.
BUT it is beautifully written. When I describe the story, it loses any of its texture because I’m not using Jamie Ford’s words.
“He drew a deep breath. Memories are narcotic, he thought. Like the array of pill bottles that sit cluttered on my nightstand. Each does, carefully administered, use as directed. Too much and they become dangerous. Too much and they’ll stop your heart.”
I think you should read this book but be prepared. It is not light; it is not happy. I thought that the very beginning was a bit slow but that is where a lot (but not all) of the horrible things happen. I don’t feel like I am selling this book but I did like it.
Thanks for reading.