Book Review: Summer Cannibals by Melanie Hobson
By Melanie Hobson
Black Cat, $16
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Appetites. Repression. Frustration. Creativity. Worth. These are the words that come to mind when describing Melanie Hobson’s debut, Summer Cannibals (Black Cat, PB $16). Behind the facade of a rambling house (that itself is a character in this novel) lies some very dark stuff.
The three daughters of the Blackford family are coming home. At the same time, their father, David, insists on going through with the annual garden tour at the home, a garden for which he cares most of all. Their mother, Margaret, is an artist who hides her art, and works in secret during snatched moments of solitude. All four of these women have allowed themselves to be thwarted—creatively, professionally, emotionally—by marriage and family.
The daughters: Georgina is an artist who never was, discouraged from becoming more than the art historian she became; Jax, a frustrated housewife who dabbles in playwriting, seeks out an affair with an old high school flame; and finally Phillipa, or Pip, is about to issue her fifth child and returns home suddenly, due to what her mother says, with undisguised skepticism, “prenatal depression,” and has probably the worst marriage of them all.
Throw in two parents who blame the other for their respective misery while at same time thriving off of it, and one can see how these women got this way. And while only one man appears with regularity—the family patriarch, David—he brings plenty of misogyny for all four of the women in his life.
In the beginning, Hobson’s sentences can at times feel as tangled as the garden she uses for the physical setting in the novel’s opening, which is being readied for the upcoming tour. This means that often actions are delivered in the very middle of sentences and receive no emphasis at all, resulting in a blink-and-you-missed moment. This device, serves to avoid over-dramatizing the already dramatic content, but I could have used with a bit more pruning. Amid the grip of its narrative, some of the action does border on the absurd, and felt unearned. I am always willing to suspend my disbelief but I feel Hobson asks just a hair too much us as readers.
These faults are minor, though, when compared to the compelling plot and character development. As the secrets tumble from the sisters and the mother, the pace became almost breakneck and positively un-putdownable as we approach the final near-tragic disaster. This was was a masterfully written scene, both in and of itself and its inclusion and position in the novel. It ultimately paved the way for the very satisfying ending, which was neither pat nor too easy. And, it felt as though the author left a door open for more to come from the Blackford family—will there be a second? I sincerely hope so.
Intern Brontë gives Summer Cannibals four out of four paws.