In her youth, Tara was wild. She abandoned her loveless marriage to join an ashram, endured a brief stint as a beggar (mostly to spite her affluent parents), and spent years chasing after a dishevelled, homeless 'artist' - all with her young child in tow. Now she is forgetting things, and her grown-up daughter is faced with the task of caring for a woman who never cared for her. This is a love story and a story about betrayal. But not between lovers - between mother and daughter.
It’s Antara’s internal conflict that forms the novel’s central theme: how do you take care of a mother who once failed to take care of you? Antara examines the question with a self-inspection so unflinching that it makes you catch your breath ... The ashram scenes are, by far, the most intriguing part of the novel, but Doshi, disappointingly, doesn’t allow us to linger here, refusing perhaps to indulge any readerly appetite for exoticism or prurience. What interests her is how, in these squalid circumstances, Tara finds liberation, and how hard it is for Antara to distinguish between her mother’s pursuit of self-determination and acts of selfishness ... Tara is monstrous, but the strength of Doshi’s book is that it resists showing only monstrosity. Her spare and unsentimental writing allows us a glimpse of something more: the suffocation of motherhood and frustrations so powerful she 'would bang her body against the wall and scream silently to herself' ... Dementia, though, is the novel’s real impasse and Doshi handles this thoughtfully ... This is an intelligent debut, deserving of its Booker shortlisting. Burnt Sugar is sorrowful, sceptical and electrifyingly truthful about mothers and daughters.
With a tightly controlled narrative voice and careful use of flashbacks, Doshi presents the result of unpacked generational trauma. Uncertainty, instability, chaos ... The prose is calculated and focused on mundane details and introspection. There is little to no sentimentality and an undercurrent of paranoia which makes for at times a deeply uncomfortable read. Even in the most melodramatic moments, there is a coldness and detachment ... What Doshi presents is no simple mother-daughter conflict. It is a voyeuristic journey into alternative living and religious fervor. It is the emptiness of middle-class existence and perfunctory friendships. It is a marriage void of true intimacy, motherhood brought about for the wrong reasons. It is all of these things and more. This is a layered, descriptive, at times distasteful novel that brings us face to face with our own darker impulses and deep-seated traumas. Antara, though a victim in many ways, abuses others, which can make readers struggle to understand her. Doshi’s novel is a warning of what can arise when the past is not unearthed, not shared, and healing hasn’t begun. This is a book worthy of respect and admiration, and deserving of its place on the Booker Prize shortlist. It can be hard to love a book when the characters are stingy with love and affection and forthcoming with long-held loathing. But as a contained, haunting narrative, the book excels ... Despite the shock and visceral disgust I felt in reaction to some of the book’s twists and turns, I would be lying if I said the misery in this book, particularly experienced by its characters, did not give me a small, twisted pleasure.
...wonderfully striking, direct and confident, and devilishly funny ... The daughter, whose point of view we follow through the novel, is named Antara. Her mother’s name is Tara. This visual and auditory proximity — one name built from the other — is a lovely example of how Doshi works ... Doshi doesn’t have to write out a scene to convey drama; she can do it with a single word ... Avni Doshi isn’t just a talented writer, she is an artist ... A voice this unadorned, and blunt, is so hauntingly stubborn and original, you want to hear from it again and again.