First novels are notoriously ambitious. Here's one that tackles nothing less than the meaning of life. On the night before her mother's funeral, Jacinta Louise Buttercup Moses, a 36-year-old writer, seeks solace and connection to her mother's life by reviewing her own eventful transformation. The only child of an English actress and a deceased West African writer, Jacinta has grown from a precocious South London girl fascinated by the Beatles, Jane Eyre and her father's magical folktales into a successful poet, teacher and mother of a 9-year-old child she calls Lady.
Alternating between her memories and the present, Jacinta recounts her life using a battery of familiar plot elements—childhood poverty, madness and adventures abroad—all cleverly illustrating how, by reshaping her memories, she comes to greater self-understanding. It works. Jacinta portrays her enemies with compassion and her supporters with complexity. And novelist Lucinda Roy's vivid story, itself so much about storytelling, convincingly transcends racial differences as it brightly explores expansive human truths. (Harper Flamingo, $24)