This story is set in present day California and is narrated through the voice of the main character Eleanor Bennett. Knowing that she has an incurable illness, she makes a video for her children to watch after her death, in order to finally explain her life on a Caribbean island before having her children.
Her death leaves behind a puzzling inheritance for her two children, Byron and Benny: a traditional Caribbean black cake, made from a family recipe with a long history. In her message, Eleanor shares a tumultuous story about how she was a headstrong young swimmer who had to escape her island home under suspicion of murdering her new husband.
The heartbreaking tale tells of the long held secrets she has held back for over 60 years, these included the mystery of a long-lost child, a lost love, a forced (albeit brief) marriage, a gambling and debt ridden father and being abandoned by her mother as a teenager. Many of these secrets challenge everything the siblings thought they knew about their lineage, their parents and themselves.
There are many characters’ thoughts which are covered in this book, as the story flits back and forth between Byron and Benny’s thoughts, Eleanor’s first child named Mabel, Gibbs, Eleanor’s husband, Mr Mitch, the Solicitor who became a close friend to Eleanor and ‘Bunny’ Eleanor’s best friend from the island and who also became a great swimmer.
As the secrets are revealed on the video, each one is analysed by the characters, especially her children as they try to reclaim their once-close relationship and piece together Eleanor’s true history. Their mother’s final wish is for her ‘three’ children to “share the black cake when the time is right”. So the children have to decide when and if the time is right.
The questions raised in this story are whether or not the children are strong enough to withstand their mother’s revelations or leave them feeling more lost.
Black Cake is the author, Charmaine Wilkerson’s debut novel and it is a wonderful if heartbreaking story of how betrayals, secrets, and memories, shape relationships, life and history.
I wasn’t sure how I would feel about this book at the beginning, but as the story grew I felt it was deeply evocative and heart-warmingly written. Black Cake shows you that sometimes circumstances can be taken out of your hands and it really is about ‘how’ you deal with the different situations that you are dealt.
In Black Cake, Eleanor Bennet’s character explored the adventures and traumas she went through, which sounded like an extraordinary journey. Love thankfully conquered all even though it was a tough life to get there for the matriarch.
I would certainly recommend reading this book for a truly beautiful read and I will certainly be looking out for another novel from this fantastic author.