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This Body

by Tessa McWatt

Victoria is a 61 year old Guyanese woman working as a cook and living in north London. When her younger sister is killed in a car accident in Guyana Victoria finds herself the sole relative of her sister’s boy, Derek, aged 8. Derek was the product of IVF and never knew who his father - what can Victoria do but take care of him?

Victoria’s life before Derek’s arrival was one in which she survived on past memories. She obsessively guards the letters of Kenyan revolutionary Kola, the love of her life, who she met in Toronto. Kola was the reason Victoria came to London where she thought she would find him after he disappeared from her life.

She also obsesses over memories of her philandering father who constantly humiliated her mother with his indiscretions. Then there’s Lenny with whom Victoria has a good friendship and with whom she occasionally shares a bed. But the passion of her younger days with Kola haunt her and get in the way of her relationship with Lenny which can never be what he’d like it to be.

Derek’s arrival changes things for Victoria. At 61 and with no children of her own, she becomes an over-protective mother/aunt nurturing Derek with her fantastic cooking skills (recipes are provided in the text!) but, of course, Derek wants to be like his friends and eat McDonalds and drink Coke. The north London school where he is sent is tough and Derek falls in with a posse of boys who drift in and out of trouble. He survives the playground bullying with his storytelling and his friendship with Kedra, a clever street-wise girl from a well off family. Kedra lives with her father (her mother is dead) and gradually the two families become unlikely friends.

Her new responsibility for Derek, and a surprising sexual re-awakening allow Victoria to re-evaluate her life and gradually let go of the past.

This book covers many issues but the main message for me is that it demonstrates that families are formed, and work, in all sorts of permutations and that mum, dad and 2.4 children is not necessarily the best one.

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