I am slowly learning about the importance of choosing the right circumstances under which to read a book. This one I read while traveling with family, and I found its brand of lively melodrama perfect for semi-distracted, oft-interrupted reading. Judging from Of Marriageable Age, which I read years ago, had this book received my full attention, it likely would have irritated me; as is, I enjoyed it. That said, it is quite similar to Of Marriageable Age, and if you loved that one to pieces you should go ahead and read this.
The Small Fortune of Dorothea Q follows three generations of Guyanese women: there’s Dorothea, a tough and outspoken crusader; her daughter Rika, a sensitive and socially awkward artist; and Rika’s daughter Inky, a modern teen who grows up in London. The story begins when the elderly Dorothea comes to live with Rika and Inky, opening old wounds and bearing a precious antique stamp. While it begins with Inky’s first-person narrative, the bulk of the novel uses the third person to trace Dorothea’s and Rika’s pasts in Guyana.
The novel is entertaining and well-paced, though predictable and cliché. It has all the elements you’d expect from a good soap: love triangles, secret parentage, accidents followed by tearful epiphanies at hospital bedsides, amnesia, characters presumed dead only to reappear, Big Misunderstandings that could be cleared up in under 5 seconds if the characters actually spoke to each other, important letters that aren’t read… you get the idea. That said, this novel is an above-average version of that; Maas develops the story well, and Dorothea and Rika are well-drawn and sympathetic characters. (I can’t say the same for Inky, who is a stereotypically self-centered modern teen without any interesting qualities. Inky’s interpretation of the ending also seemed to me dead wrong.
Perhaps it was Maas’s intent that Inky doesn’t understand people nearly as well as she thinks she does; it’s hard to tell.) The setting is also interesting and we learn a bit about Guyanese history and culture.
This isn’t great literature, but it is an entertaining family saga. It would make great airplane, beach, or doctor’s office reading. Don’t assume from the page count that it will last, though; it goes by quickly.