Set in Chicago in the 1980s, Bettina is the daughter to Babs Ballentyne, heiress to the Ballentyne Chocolate fortune. With no knowledge of who her father is and a mother who acts more like a scandalous companion, the young Bettina grows up thinking that outlandish extravagant parties and hearing about sexual exploits from Babs is the norm and wanting nothing more to gain her mother’s approval. Years later when Bettina finds herself at boarding school and left to her own devices to make friends, she quickly realizes that what she knew growing up is not necessarily what is expected of someone her age.
When a friend recommended this book to me a few years ago, I had no idea what I was getting into. Even with the book jacket synopsis, I didn’t realize how crazy (and scandalous!) the story would be. Told from Bettina’s point of view, Norton doesn’t hold back in what Babs shares with her young child. To the readers it’s fairly shocking and inappropriate, but Bettina grew up with that as the norm so she sees nothing wrong with hearing advice about bedroom activities from her mother. With that kind of an unconventional mother/daughter relationship, the book explores some interesting and uncomfortable scenarios of Bettina trying to relate to others since her perception of what “regular” people are like is skewed. “Hot mess” is what this book is – though not in describing the actual book, but rather the characters.
In some ways, this book reminded me of the same vibe as a soap opera or Maria Semple’s book Where’d You Go Bernadette, in the sense of it feeling a bit satirical in the outlandish narrative of wealth and privilege. Babs’ behaviour is often erratic and abrupt, which seems fitting to how the book plays out as it nears its end. The Chocolate Money is an entertaining, jaw-dropping story about the extremely rich (and ridiculous) life of an heiress. There are moments where it will shock you, startle you and make your heart break a little for the misguided young girl who wants to be seen and loved.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ (3.5/5 stars)
Available: September 18, 2012
Goodreads | Book Depository | Chapters Indigo
Read as part of Brunch Book Club with Lost in a Great Book.
Wrap up discussion to follow in the coming week.