Then I picked up The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom, I admit that I didn't have huge expectations as historical fiction is not my favourite genre. There has been a lot of hype around this novel in the US, with many comparisons to The Help. Now, I enjoyed The Help when I read it, but it didn't blow me away by any means, and if I'm honest, I actually thought the film was better than the book.
The Kitchen House is Kathleen Grissom's first novel and was published here in the UK by Doubleday at Transworld on 14 March 2013.
Thank goodness - my reading mojo is back, and was saved by this novel! I have been totally transfixed by this wonderful story and enjoyed every page of it. Kathleen Grissom has produced a story that is moving and shocking, with characters that are so well created that the reader feels as though they are family. This is not a pleasant story, at times it is harrowing and very cruel, but it is compelling and I found it very difficult to put it down.
Set in Virginia, and beginning in 1791, The Kitchen House tells the story of Lavinia, a seven-year-old Irish orphan. Lavinia finds herself working in the kitchen of a wealthy plantation owner and soon becomes part of the family of black slaves who are owned by and work on the plantation. As Lavinia grows up, she becomes more aware of her white skin, and how this makes her different to her adopted family. The story is narrated alternatively by Lavinia and by Belle. Belle has always been a mother figure to Lavinia, yet she is black, a slave, and owned fully by the Captain.
Kathleen Grissom has proved with this debut novel that she can write very well. Her writing has a warmth and compassionate edge that even when dealing with some horrific incidents of violence and cruelty urges the reader to carry on reading. The subject matter is shocking, the writing is brave, the story is important.
Over the past ten years, Kathleen Grissom and her husband have been restoring an old plantation tavern in Virginia. While researching the plantation's past, Kathleen found an old map on which, not far from their home, was the notation, 'Negro Hill'. Unable to determine the story of its origin, local historians suggested that it most likely represented a tragedy. This became the inspiration behind The Kitchen House.
To find out more about Kathleen Grissom, visit her website here