Author: Francesca Jakobi
Genre: Women’s’ Fiction
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Date of Publication: 4th October 2018 (paperback)
Date of Review: 24th September 2018
It’s 1969, and while the summer of love lingers in London, Gilda is consumed by the mistakes of her past. She walked out on her beloved son Reuben when he was just a boy and fears he will never forgive her. When Reuben marries Alice, he seems transformed by love – a love Gilda has craved his entire adult life. What does his new wife have that she doesn’t? And how far will she go to find out? It’s an obsession that will bring shocking truths about the past to light . . .
Structured around short, fast-paced chapters, this first-person narrative is told from the perspective of Gilda: a twice-divorced, middle-aged woman whose only child has just married. Whilst the protagonist has been characterised as a stereotypical, over-bearing, Jewish mother, this characterisation is uniquely three-dimensional, where past and present timelines are brought together allowing the reader to empathise with Gilda’s heart-breaking story.
Affected by events of the past, Gilda’s relationship with her son, Rueben, is a distant one and her jealousy towards Rueben’s adoration of his new wife soon becomes an obsession for Gilda. But whilst the plot has an abundance of melancholic scenes, these are lifted by the narrator’s wonderfully dry sense of humour, which is prevalent right from the very start. The author’s strong metaphorical imagery is closely linked to this humour: ‘I planned this outfit months ago but this tight, white suit is too tight and too white. And this hat, all the netting …’.
The novel’s title is also metaphorical, with bitter being German for please. As a German girl living in an English boarding school in the early 1930s, when Gilda accidentally reverts to her native language with the use of the word bitter instead of please, she is ridiculed; highlighting Gilda’s both physical and metaphorical displacement in life.
Whilst I wouldn’t call this novel a psychological thriller as such, Gilda’s obsession towards her daughter-in-law comes very close to the line. There are moments of high suspense which will have you holding your breath, which together with its tight chapter structure, makes for an incredible edge-of-the-seat ride: just one little push and things could have turned very nasty indeed on more than one occasion!
But whilst this story has hints of a creepy psychological thriller, it is more a story of love, kindness, and true enduring friendship. This was a thoroughly enjoyable debut and I look forward to reading more from this author. I recommend this book to anybody who likes Carol Mason, Kit de Waal, or Mary Paulson-Ellis
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Under Literature Love’s rating scheme this book has been awarded 5 out of 5 stars.
I absolutely loved this book and couldn’t put it down.
I recommend you stop what you’re doing and go and buy this book now!
Thank you to the author, publisher, and NetGalley
for an Advance Review Copy of this book
in return for an honest and unbiased review.
About the Author
Francesca studied psychology at the University of Sussex, followed by a stint teaching English in Turkey and the Czech Republic. On returning to her native London she got a job as a reporter on a local paper and has worked in journalism ever since. She’s currently a layout editor at the Financial Times.
Bitter is her first novel, inspired by her grandmother who was sued for divorce in the 1940s.