Butter, Honey, Pig, Bread. Family, Trauma, and Healing.
Stories that are told from multiple personal perspectives and in different voices have always been favourites. They expand the narrative and add layers to the story-telling atmosphere and what the author is trying to achieve, develop complex characters and elevate as well as add depth to interactions. It also serves to get and keep the reader engaged in the story.
In Butter, Honey, Pig, Bread, Ekwuyasi has weaved rich, descriptive prose in with simple and clear writing, from which evolves an evocative, interesting, and affecting story of two generations of women- mother and twin daughters- and their entwined, strained, damaged yet beautiful relationship. There were also times throughout the book when the prose became more, drawing a wealth of emotion with the depth of relation of person and experience.
Ekwuyasi uses letters and memories to introduce, build, and ground her characters on the page, and as we read further and further in, we see them grow and learn what caused the rift that pushed these sisters apart and what will bring them back together. As each sister shares their lives with us, pursuing dreams, careers, and companionship, we get to see how they individually reacted to and dealt with a trauma that was perpetrated on one sister, yet became shared emotionally and mentally, and led to the deterioration of their connection. The eventual explosion that accompanies the brewing confrontation is equally painful and necessary. Wounds of hurt and betrayal can never be healed unless the door is opened and the injured parties reveal the truth and depth of their pain. The narrative flow portrays the shattering of a precious bond, the rippling and cascading effects, and the resulting scars which lead to the development of unhealthy habits in an attempt to cope.
Both sisters turned to damaging manifestations of their identity in an attempt to move their psyches as far as possible from what they endured, instead of working towards healing, finding, and returning to self; whether it was developing an eating disorder, holding unto society's biased norms of body image, using casual sex, liquor, and drugs as measures of survival. Not realizing that these habits were preventing them from thriving. I loved that Ekwuyasi explored a topic that many women and girls face, alone or within a family, and just how far-reaching and affecting trauma can be to an individual's relationships, not only with others, but with themselves.
It was so very easy to sink into this story, becoming immersed and invested in the reconciliation that I hoped was coming, without even knowing if it would be rewarding. The tension and reluctance that each sister exhibited as they were once again in each other's orbit was communicated so clearly and understandably. Their development and realizations as they fully face what had separated them and what it had led to do; their losses, friendships, relationships and the moments of levity and trifling family drama, which everyone can relate to. The inclusion of an Igbo belief added another layer to this family and the tale of their mother and her life as it was influenced by her Kin. It was so creative and definitely deepened the layering of the events that unfold.
I also loved the infusion of food culture into this story; it fit so seamlessly into the storyline, it was impeccable. There is such power and meaning in food and what it can do for the restoration of individuals and relationships.
Butter, Honey, Pig, Bread is a novel written by Francesca Ekwuyasi and published by Arsenal Pulp Press.
Longlisted for the 2020 ScotiaBank Giller Prize