Monsoon Mansion: A Memoir by Cinelle Barnes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The upbringing related in this memoir of a childhood in the Philippines is so far outside my own experience that I can only shudder. The author’s parents are both neglectful, and the emotional and physical abuse inflicted by her mother is horrifying. I’m amazed that this account in hazy, dreamlike writing was wrought from such harsh memories.
Creative nonfiction is a strange arena. How much is creative and how much is nonfiction? Conversations relayed from when a person is five years old must be largely reconstructions. In this book, however, instances from two+ decades past are conveyed clearly, and the emotional impact feels honest.
I have two complaints, one about the writing, and the other about the content. The writing is sometimes overwrought and would more easily bear its meaning with simpler structure. The last line of the author’s note got me off to an eye-rolling start: “Reader, here is Monsoon Mansion, my otherworld.” Then, in the prologue:
“I twirled, dizzying and dizzying.
The melodramatic line break strains my patience.
In the content, some difficult scenes are elided. The elisions stand out because the whole book is full of terrible instances that no child should have to endure, so closing the curtain on some of them is odd. It’s not as if the author needs to protect her mother’s dignity, because that is long gone. At one point her mother is chasing her father with a knife, but the scene just cuts off. Later I cried through a scene of implied sexual molestation, but again it simply stops, and we’re left wondering if it was a nightmare. The author is entitled to her privacy, of course, but that’s not the contract with a memoir. A memoir usually promises some degree of brutal honesty, and I think some things were elided because they were too difficult.
I really look forward to reading this talented author’s next projects.