Book Review: Patsy

Nicole Dennis-Benn

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

published: 4th July 2019
spoilers? no


A beautifully layered portrait of motherhood, immigration, and the sacrifices we make in the name of love from award-winning novelist Nicole Dennis-Benn.

When Patsy gets her long-coveted visa to America, it comes after years of yearning to leave Pennyfield, the beautiful but impoverished Jamaican town where she was raised. More than anything, Patsy wishes to be reunited with her oldest friend, Cicely, whose letters arrive from New York steeped in the promise of a happier life and the possible rekindling of their young love. But Patsy’s plans don’t include her overzealous, evangelical mother―or even her five-year-old daughter, Tru.

Beating with the pulse of a long-witheld confession, Patsy gives voice to a woman who looks to America for the opportunity to choose herself first―not to give a better life to her family back home. Patsy leaves Tru behind in a defiant act of self-preservation, hoping for a new start where she can be, and love, whomever she wants. But when Patsy arrives in Brooklyn, America is not as Cicely’s treasured letters described; to survive as an undocumented immigrant, she is forced to work as a bathroom attendant and nanny. Meanwhile, Tru builds a faltering relationship with her father back in Jamaica, grappling with her own questions of identity and sexuality, and trying desperately to empathize with her mother’s decision.

Expertly evoking the jittery streets of New York and the languid rhythms of Jamaica, Patsy weaves between the lives of Patsy and Tru in vignettes spanning more than a decade as mother and daughter ultimately find a way back to one another.

Galley provided by publisher

CWs: self harm, domestic abuse, rape, implied child sexual abuse, suicide and suicide attempt

Half the books I read these days seem to be “it’s not you it’s me” books, by which I mean, I know they’re good books, well-written with great characters. But they’re not books I enjoy. Patsy just so happened to be one of those.

This book, unsurprisingly, is about a main character called Patsy, who emigrates from Jamaica to the USA, leaving behind her daughter, Tru, with Tru’s father, who is now married to another woman and has three sons. Patsy is hoping to meet her best friend Cicely in America, a woman she loved before Cicely disappeared abruptly.

Not a whole lot in terms of action happens in this book. It’s a very character-driven novel, with 400 pages of character development going on, to be honest. And me, with my terrible patience and lack of concentration, I was just not a good fit for it. The writing was gorgeous and I loved the characters easily, but I just don’t do well with this kind of fiction.

But even still it grew on me as a book. Especially near the end, where both Patsy and Tru met someone, and there was that also developing. That’s when I started liking the book more, and skimming it less. And, on the whole, I loved the development of Tru’s relationship with her father. So there were aspects I liked. It’s just, some of it felt a little like it came too late for me. After I’d got through 300 pages of none of that, and then it comes. I’ve comfortably already formed an opinion of a book by then, so, although I liked those parts, they didn’t really make up for everything before.

But if that kind of thing is for you, a deeply character-driven novel that centres around some wonderful relationships? You’ll probably enjoy this a lot more.

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