“Someone is watching you”*
Genre: General adult fiction
Similar to: Part Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca, part Eleanor Oliphant…
Could be enjoyed by: Fans of suspenseful drama with flawed characters
Publication date: 8th March 2018th
You know when you’re reading a book and there’s a flawed character who has all the right intentions but goes about everything in completely the wrong way? That’s exactly how I felt about Gilda Meyer, the main character in Bitter. Gilda lives on her own in London near to her newly married and highly ungrateful son Reuben and his wife, Alice. She’s had a hard life, emigrating from Germany as a Jewish refugee during the war and consequently never really fitted in. She is told to marry an older man by her father, who sees the nuptials as a chance to further his business interests and when she falls pregnant Gilda finds herself woefully unprepared for the life of a young mother. Through a series of flashbacks, we explore a complicated mother/son relationship and witness her awkward attempts to right the wrongs of the past.
Bitter is such a complicated emotional tangle of a book – but I loved every second of it. Gilda is a flawed individual and an unreliable narrator (she drinks a lot; we witness her making up fantastical stories to impress her friends) so it’s often left up to the reader to quite literally read between the lines. Gilda’s viewpoint is also tainted by the twin forces of motherly love and mother’s guilt so you’re often able to see the situation far more clearly than she is. I would hazard a guess that she suffered from post-natal depression following Reuben’s birth but Gilda sees the period as evidence of her inability to be a “proper” mother, something that has cast a perpetual shadow over her relationship with her son. Yet even through his diffident and often downright rude treatment of his mother, Gilda’s love for Reuben never wavers. The more Reuben pushes her away, the more Gilda clings to him – her desperate attempts at getting his attention becoming more and more extreme. I spent a lot of my time reading Bitter thinking “Gilda, no!” but at the same time I completely understood why she would behave in that way. As uncomfortable as it was, it made for a very compelling storyline.
I loved the honesty of Bitter and the originality of writing about a toxic relationship from a mother/son dynamic. I thought that the single person point of view worked exceptionally well as from the outside Gilda appears to be a very unsympathetic character; a distant alcoholic who has never been able to bond with her son or show him affection. Her obsession with Reuben’s life and her interfering ways could have turned her into a real villain but I felt like Gilda’s character was so engaging that I was completely on her side. Many of the scenes were incredibly poignant and the writing so subtley nuanced that I was completely engrossed within the narrative from start to finish.
I consistently felt that as Gilda’s behaviour became more extreme that her fragile relationship with Reuben and Alice was liable to come crashing down around her ears so I was on the edge of my seat as I approached the ending. It’s not often that you find out the big final reveal in a book at the same time as the characters so it’s testament to the excellent writing that I didn’t see it coming – but I loved the way that things played out.
Overall, Bitter is a brilliantly written book with a very original premise, well rounded characters and an enthralling storyline. I felt like I had been sucked into the vortex of Gilda’s guilt/love downward spiral and the more desperate she became the more captivated I was – like watching a slow motion car crash, I simply couldn’t look away. Often uncomfortable but thoroughly engaging, I thought that Bitter was a fantastic read.
Rating: Four and a half “Gilda, no!”s out of five.
*Yet again another misleading grab line. Why?
Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks Netgalley!