There are some books which you hear the names of and you think, okay, this is going to be one delicious, lip-smacking book about some delicious, lip-smacking food. Instead, it turns out to be about something else altogether – a headily intriguing mix of the sweetness of the little joys in life, the bitterness of harsh reality, the sourness of anger, the saltiness of sorrow, the bland taste of helplessness, that spicy tang of enthusiastic motivation – and it fills you up with not only emotions, but also with the reiterated knowledge that the world is way more complicated and intricately connected than we think it is.
Today’s book spotlight is on one such book. Called Hot Stew and written by Fiona Mozley, this story is set in SoHo, a part of London where women have been working in their own brothels for years, only for the owner of the building, Agatha, to decide to kick them out of their homes, first through sly measures and then by more outright ones. There is a host of characters in this book that are more complex than you realize in the first go. Precious, Tabitha, Candy, Cynthia, Hazel, and the other woman working in this neighborhood; Robert Kerr, with a shady past; Lorenzo, an aspiring actor; Bastian and Rebecca, the couple supposed to be in love; Agatha, the owner; Roster, the driver; Glenda, Laura, Jackie Rose, Michael Warbeck, and so many more!
But as this Hot Stew comes together, you realize that power doesn’t just come from wresting it from others. It also comes from the place where the women in this story stand strong and fight back against eviction. How all of this reiterates the unfortunate fact that power and money is what you need to become visible in society forms the entire story.
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Hot Stew is one book that I’ll probably remember forever, thanks to its eccentric and edgy writing style that gives us so many insights into the lives of sex workers and what they go through. Fiona Mozley takes us through life itself in this book by talking us through the uncertainty of living, inherited wealth, regrets, love, the forceful nature of desperation, looking out for ourselves, the connection that laces through us all, and so much more.
What stood out to me in Hot Stew was how nothing was a coincidence. Somehow, as you read each chapter, you see how it could have happened in the best manner possible. Everything and everyone in this novel is interconnected. It tells us that the stories that you think have nothing to do with you, will come back to you in a loop that you will never see coming. And that is one moral of this story: that know people’s stories before you decide to ruthlessly knock them down for your own gains.
Fiona Mozley’s characters ooze humanity, every single one of them. Yes, even Agatha Howard, the apparently merciless developer who is hell bent on bringing down the building that houses the brothel. You start to balance the goods and the bads, the pros and the cons – only to realize that the world is merely different shades of grey.
What is superbly empowering to read is how the women of the brothel stand up to save their homes. They are fierce in their defense and to read their words as encourage each other sent goosebumps up my spine. And when this strength clashes with the stubbornness of the developers, all hell’s about to rain down, while throwing light on the fact that money isn’t all that is worth living for. It gives you a comfortable life but it also has the power to steal away empathy. It has the power to make one blind to recognizing one’s fellow human beings.
And Hot Stew, in a bid to talk about power, manages to encompass both forms of power – the raw, fierce one that allows you to take a stand for yourself and defend what you love, and the blinding power that makes some people put themselves on a pedestal.
I’d highly recommend this book. Must, must read!