Book Review of ‘Wild Fires’ by Sophie Jai

Grief is like an inside joke: you have to have been there to really get it.

The only things Cassandra knows about her family are the stories she’s heard in snatches over the years: about the aunt and cousin she never got to meet, about the man from the folded-up photograph in one of her aunt’s drawers, and of course her cousin, Chevy, and why he never speaks – but no one utters a word about them any more.

When a call from one of her sisters brings Cassandra news of Chevy’s death, she has to return home for the funeral. To Toronto and the big house on Florence Street, where her sisters are hiding more than themselves in their rooms, where the tension brewing between her mother and aunts has been decades in the making, and where sooner or later every secret, unspoken word and painful memory will find its way out into the open.

Moving between Toronto and Trinidad, ‘Wild Fires’ is a vivid and compelling story exploring the ways we mourn and why we avoid the very things that can save us.

I enjoyed Sophie Jai’s debut novel. ‘Wild Fires’ is a touching depiction of grief and how it affects a family. It’s an intimate look at the inside workings a multi-generational family, which deals with layers of pain, regrets and secrets.

Despite this book being about an awful lot of women, Jai depicts each one as unique and somehow made it easy to keep track of who everyone was and the ways in which their stories intertwined. I particularly enjoyed the story of Cassie’s Aunt Rani – her tale was unique and I felt a lot of sympathy for her.

I found it interesting that one of the few male characters in this novel, Chevy was practically mute. There are strong female characters in ‘Wild Fires’ who are allowed to shine in their domestic setting; sometimes they support each other, and sometimes they tear each other apart.

‘Wild Fires’ is a story of choosing to remain or to leave, of knowing when it is a time for battle or a time to run. It shows how even the closest of families may snap when faced with its grief. Sophie Jai has a talent for depicting the quiet and everyday in a way that is both alarming and touching, and I look forward to reading more from her in the future.

The image is of the front cover of ‘Wild Fires’ by Sophie Jai.  It shows a White House surrounded by flames.

Wild Fires is Sophie Jai’s debut novel. She was selected as a 2020 Writer-in-Residence and Visiting Fellow at the University of Oxford for Wild Fires, and was long listed for the 2019 Bridport Prize Peggy Chapman-Andrews Award for a First Novel. Jai was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago. She splits her time between Toronto and London.

‘Wild Fires’ is due to be published on 12th May 2022.

Thank you to NetGalley, HarperCollins UK and Sophie Jai for this ARC in exchange for my honest review.

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