The Kitchen House – Kathleen Grissom
- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: Doubleday (14 Mar 2013)
- Source: Amazon Vine
- My Rating – 4 stars
Kathleen Grissom’s debut novel, The Kitchen House, is a New York Times bestseller and a firm favourite with book clubs in the United States. Despite stiff competition from many other novels set in the antebellum Deep South, this story has captured the imagination of contemporary America.
Perhaps it is the twist of placing a white female in the midst of black slaves which makes it stand out and gives it a spark of originality. Lavinia, a seven year old Irish orphan, finds herself indentured to a white plantation family and eventually discovers a new family amongst the black slaves in the kitchen house. As the years pass, she ends up in a limbo-like situation unsure of her status in society, not quite fitting in anywhere.
Yes, there are some stereotypical characters including evil overseers, drunken, power-crazed plantation owners, swooning ladies but there are also some strong female characters ironically more so among the slave population than amid the white genteel ladies who seem imprisoned by the shackles of marriage and the constraints of society. With chapters alternately narrated by either Lavinia or Belle (her guardian at the kitchen house), the reader gets a broad, balanced view of events.
There is quite a lot of misery but nevertheless this is an extremely readable, compelling story. I’m not sure if I would put it on a par with The Help as that was a more character-driven novel and there were moments of humour to alleviate the gloom but it is an impressive debut and a definite page-turner.