A dark and mysterious novel by Avni Doshi, her first novel which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2020.
I found it quite insightful as to how an author can provide such thought and detail into protagonist Antara’s relationship with her mother, Tara, as she evokes a sense of unease between the two, where tension is rife from the start. It’s said that you write what you know: is this an insight into what Doshi has experienced with her own mother?
If we go back to old school English lessons and unpick the title, Burnt Sugar indicates a number of things. Boiling and fizzing up sugar to the point of sweetness, yet there is a fine line between that, and it being burnt and bitter; very much like Antara and Tara’s relationship. Sometimes it seems like a normal mother-daughter relationship, other times it is spiteful, wretched and unenviable.
Once burnt, sugar is very difficult to remove or rectify from the pan; it is forever tainted. Antara and Tara are snide towards one another in their actions, thoughts and attitudes, her mother forever reminding her she is fat and disgusting, whilst Antara admits there are many times when she thinks about killing her.
This parallels with the fact Tara has Alzheimer’s, yet parts of her past personality come through. Whilst Antara seems very un-Tara, they are still so alike. Their dark, twisted relationship is evident from Antara’s childhood where she flicks between the past and present, along with her somewhat distant relationship with her husband Dilip as her protruding care and disgust for her mother overrides their time together.
At times this made me think if Antara would take such advantage of her mother’s downfall and act upon her beliefs: would Antara kill her mother? Would Tara even go that far with her daughter, even if she is sane?
The concern continues when Antara soon brings her own daughter, Anikka into the world who she also doesn’t want much to do with, so much so she has Dilip and her mother-in-law decide on her name. This leaves one praying that she doesn’t display the same attitude towards her pure new born, or will she just turn her into the same version of her?
I did get bored throughout a lot of this novel as not much happens, nor did I care for some of Antara’s past experiences, making me question the relevance to her life or even relationship with her mother. My interest piqued at times, however it was quite a slog throughout.
It’s a very deep novel with a lot of implicit meaning where Antara is not very likeable either. I didn’t quite know what the plot was, if there was one.
Dark, heavy and mysterious, if that’s your vibe.
Rating – 3/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Genre – domestic fiction