#DNF Book Review: Bitter Leaves by Tabatha Stirling

Bitter Leaves…

About the Book:

Welcome to the black heart of Singapore’s maid culture, where a woman’s life is cheap in one of the richest countries in the world.

Here are the voices of the unheard, of maid and employer, of village girl and city dweller. Follow Lucilla, Ma’am Leslie, Shammi and Madame Eunice as they strive, each in her own way, to exist in a country in which dark shadows lie beneath its pristine exterior.

The lives of these women are woven together by a narrative which is always candid and often brutal, as it explores the effects of loss, madness, abuse and hope during a woman’s life and in society as a whole.

My Thoughts:

I read a review for this novel, Bitter Leaves, earlier in the year, and while the review wasn’t overly glowing, it was still fairly solid and the premise of the novel sounded quite interesting to me, so I marked it as one to come back to.

I sat down to read some more this afternoon, I’m at about the 150 page mark, so over halfway, and it occured to me that I’m really not enjoying the novel at all. That if I were to finish it, it would be an exercise in forcing myself and I’ve got way too much waiting for me on my #tbr to keep on ploughing through something that is just not grabbing me. This novel was actually my selection for my final bingo category: reading a book with an author of the same initials as you. Didn’t quite work out like I envisaged, but not every book is a perfect fit for every reader.

I think my issue with this novel is mostly to do with the way it’s executed. It’s told entirely in the first person, which sometimes can work really well, but in this case, it’s just coming off as very monotone and stilted, a reiteration of events that aren’t moving forward. And it’s rather miserable, which is of course in keeping with the theme of the story, but I can’t help but feel as though it is a grim train to nowhere, for want of another expression. There is so much cruelty and abuse, too much so, it overwhelms and left me feeling quite drained, and the cast is far too large to keep track of without effort. As far as topics of writing go, it’s a very valid one with many interesting threads of possibility. It’s heartbreaking, how these maids are treated, so don’t for a moment think that I am dismissing the validity of this story or nullifying its importance. The story is one I’m interested in, I just don’t want to read it in its current state.

I’ll just chalk this one up to being a case of a misfit between the book and the reader. This whole not finishing a book that I’m not really liking is still very new to me. I’m not sure if it’ll ever sit all that well but like I said, there’s lots and lots of books on my #tbr that I can’t wait to get to, so it’s a case of #dnf for Bitter Leaves.

Bitter Leaves
Published by Unbound (a crowdfunding/pledge publishing project)
Released March 2019

15 thoughts on “#DNF Book Review: Bitter Leaves by Tabatha Stirling

  1. Thanks for this review, because this is one I might have wanted to read myself.
    During his recent BA studies at Monash, the Spouse studied the history of slavery, and it included a segment on modern day slavery. The academic running the course included this issue of servants in places like Singapore (which made some of the international Asian students arc up, because it was their families he was talking about, but he had the research facts to back up what he was saying).
    A book like this raises the whole appropriation issue again: ideally, this book should be written by a Singaporean, and preferably a maid. But how could that happen? Singapore is not a democracy with freedom of speech like we have. Theoretically it’s a representative democracy but it has broad powers to limit citizens’ rights and to inhibit political opposition. Since their economy depends on these servants, I can’t imagine that they’d allow publication of a book exposing what goes on and that they aren’t doing anything about it. And I also can’t imagine anyone poor enough and desperate enough to work in these modern day slavery situations ever being in a position to tell their story.
    So kudos to the author for having a go,it’s a shame that the writing lets her down. From what I can see of other reviews at GR, some of them felt that the book was manipulative and made them feel as if they were complicit in the horrors. So I can see why you didn’t want to go on, that’s why I wouldn’t want to read it either.

    Liked by 2 people

    • There was some allusion in the author notes that the author had a friend who was a former maid. I don’t know, it wasn’t specfic enough but it gave me the impression she knew someone and was basing a lot of the book on their word. One thing that also bothered me was the use of ignorant language, as in, the story was in the first person, so when we were in a chapter about a maid, it was all rather regressive and ‘dumbed’ down with the language, if you know what I mean? I know that was to fully immerse the reader into each character, but it really bothered me.
      I can see that happening with the international Asian students. My sister lives in Singapore, and while she has no maids herself, she works with people who do and there are many things that she’s become aware of that make her uncomfortable. She has, in her apartment, a maid’s quarters. It’s so small, and so much more utilitarian than the rest of her place. She actually uses it as a storage cupboard for her brooms and vacuum and the bathroom component for her cat litter tray. The toilet is just a squat one, and the shower was over the top of it. So a maid would effectively be standing over their own toilet to shower. Knowing this steered me towards the book as well, but yes, it was just not what I expected. That’s interesting, about the comment regarding the book being manipulative and making them feel complicit in the horrors. It was like that, from what I read, anyway.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a shame! But I agree no point forcing yourself to read it. I also had a dnf book this week, my book club selection for this month. I’m glad it wasn’t a review book, but there are just too many books calling my name from my lengthy tbr pile. I’m sure you are the same! Was this a review book?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree, we all have too many books we want to get to, so when something isn’t grabbing our attention it’s time to ‘move on’. I don’t review books I DNF which means the book won’t attract a negative rating which can be a better experience for the author/publisher than if I finish it and give it a low rating. I just published a 1 star review for a book I requested, so it does happen occasionally, eek! :-O

    Liked by 1 person

    • I take it book by book. I didn’t rate this one on Goodreads so my opinion of it shouldn’t have an impact on the book like that, but sometimes with a #dnf I have. But as I read this for my bingo challenge, I don’t have time to read another book for this square, hence the review, although, the review is only here on my blog.
      1 star! I haven’t gotten to the end of one of those in a long time…if ever!


  4. Good on you, doll. I’m terrible at DNFing – in fact, I can’t remember the last time I didn’t finish a book. I can’t bring myself to review a book without having finished it, and I like to review just about every book I read, so I always force myself through to the end. Sometimes, it’s a good thing, but sometimes I think I’m wasting precious reading hours – I need to shut down that dirty completionist voice in my head, and get on board with this the way that you have. Thank you for sharing! ❤️ (and such a shame the book wasn’t a good fit! Ah, well, they can’t all be winners…)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m still learning when it comes to DNFing, but I’m getting there! 😁
      I review every book I read and until recently I was forcing myself to finish or skimming and reading only the last couple of chapters. It’s kind of liberating to just shrug it off…I never realised it until this year!

      Liked by 1 person

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