Shelf Awareness review: *Love Child* by Sheila Kohler

Love Child: A Novel
Sheila Kohler
Penguin (2011), trade paper (ISBN 9780143119197)
Fiction, 256 pages

The following review was originally published in Shelf Awareness for Readers (7/1/2011 issue) and is reprinted with permission.

Sheila Kohler’s Love Child centers on the theme of domestic complications. This novel packs a lot of story into its pages: Bill is a South African woman in the pre-apartheid years, a relatively recent and relatively young widow with two teenage sons in boarding school. Her late husband left her very well provided for, and her lawyer is now urging her to make a will of her own. He assumes it will be a simple thing, with her sons as primary heirs and possibly smaller bequests to her siblings and servants. He assumes incorrectly.

Bill’s lawyer is unaware of her short-lived, impulsive first marriage–the one that required her parents’ consent because she was still underage. And almost no one knows the highly unusual circumstances surrounding her second marriage, matters that wind up affecting what might become of her estate. Plus, her siblings have become financially reliant upon Bill, and things are much more complicated than anyone could have imagined.

Aside from some references to the “color bar,” the South African setting and its racial climate at the time don’t factor heavily into Kohler’s novel, a personal story could be set almost anywhere. While Kohler’s spare prose doesn’t really evoke a sense of place, it does create an interesting emotional landscape, and the novel’s nonlinear chronology piques the reader’s curiosity. Despite an ending that feels a little too neat and a sense that some elements could have been fleshed out more, Love Child is an intriguingly messy story with an unusual perspective on family dysfunction.

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