Summer Cannibals: A Novel by Melanie Hobson


They were handsome and they knew it to be true, and theirs was a world that rewarded such things.

David and Margaret Blackford are waiting for the return of their three daughters, George, Jax and Pippa. Something is wrong with the youngest, Pippa who is pregnant with her fifth child living in New Zealand, and she has phoned asking to come home. Naturally this troubles Margaret, already exasperated with her husband’s ‘mania’ about his grand garden tour and the hordes of people who are meant to arrive. Not even his daughter’s need can make him back down from his egotistical plans. As she is consumed by worry, “She saw her husband’s deep sleeps as a kind of betrayal. Just another example of his overall cruelty.” Easy sleep, as he certainly isn’t tormented with the worries she has. She knows his tour is bound to fail. When she hasn’t been working on her collages, giving her days a sense of order, release he has been running over her for years. She is an artists, but a repressed one, as a doctor’s wife. Their marriage is a cannibalism itself. What begins in the first few chapters as a simple, slow story about a cocky aging man acting crazed and obsessive over his garden tour spirals into a disturbing erotic game between the couple when a ‘delectable’ young woman enters the scene.

Erotica isn’t shocking in and of itself, but the exception here is that they play out these fantasies, this weird new threesome of sorts while their adult daughters are in the sprawling mansion on the shores of Lake Ontario. One of which, Pippa, is a wreck and in desperate need of help. Pregnant, ready to give birth at any moment! Deeply lost and depressed with secrets from her childhood that she has never confided, which may well explain the trajectory of her bohemian life, as well as the ‘progressive’ relationship she and her husband have. Pippa, whose always sort of floated along and just taken life as it came, wondering now where the guidance and care was that she desperately needed. Georgina, a professor of arts history arrives already keenly aware of the simmering tension between her parents, thinking of her own child and all the effort she put into helping him. Realizing she and her son could use this break from each other, while she is home helping Pippa, with no other family needing her attention. Georgina, though, thinks of Pippa as very good at manipulation, resenting that even as an adult and far away she was still ‘making them all jump.’ Then she sees her at the airport and is shocked by her appearance and realize for the first time that maybe it really is something more than ‘drama’. Jax “self-satisfied” (if you asked Georgina) back home is remembering the bars, bands and sneaking out, her little sister tagging along when they were young, surely she just needs to shake things up, remind Pippa of wild fun! Her sister’s problems don’t consume her as much as the state of her marriage and an old flame’s whispered promise of the past. She is sneaking away again before long, once again indulging in pleasures.

Regret, shame, guilt, what ifs and a dish or two of poisonous revenge you have one heck of a messed up family. But as lost as Pippa is, for whom they are gathered to help, it’s Margaret and David that are twisted and disturbed.

I am still not sure how I feel about this book, at times uncomfortable, often irritated by David and his whining about the son that never was and exhausted by Margaret, who really I wanted to slap half the time, particularly when she finds out what happened to her youngest Pippa. How can a mother be blasé about such things? The dynamic between husband and wife, well if handsome entitled people turn into this, I think I’ll take struggle to wealthy boredom. Nothing about the girls was shocking compared to their parents antics, game. Read it, but it isn’t all pretty flowers and stampeding garden visitors. I didn’t go away feeling warm and fuzzy about family, I felt like telling Pippa (all the sisters really) run away from that family home before it swallows you, or seduces you like Goldilocks with its opulence (you have to read to understand that reference).

Publication Date: September 11, 2018

Grove Atlantic



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