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The Sin Eater By Megan Campisi

Updated: May 21, 2020

As reviewed on The Cafe, TV3!

Megan Campisi is a playwright whose work has been performed in France, China and the US. The Sin Eater is her debut novel and is exceptionally well done – it’s a historical novel that also manages to be dystopian and contemporary.

May Owens has recently been orphaned at the age of fourteen, and after stealing a loaf of bread she is thrown into prison and is waiting her sentence. She is stunned to discover that her punishment is to become a Sin Eater. Every town has a Sin Eater or two. The role of a Sin Eater is to hear the private confessions of the dying, and then to eat selected food that represents their sins, as a funeral rite. So as an example, adultery is dried raisins, idleness is pickled cucumber, poisoning is pigeon pie. So in this way the dying are guaranteed to go to heaven.

In one way, this is a good turn of events for May. She will never have to go hungry ever again. But there is a massive downside. She will spend the rest of her life living in exile on the edge of the town, suddenly invisible except when she does the funeral rites. And she must live her life in silence, apart from some set words when visiting the dying.

The Sin Eater becomes a mystery novel when May is summoned to the palace when two of the Queen’s attendants grow ill. She hears their deathbed confessions – and based on what they say, she begins to investigate a terrible rumour that is whispered in the palace corridors.

This is an original and compelling novel – and at its heart is the story of a woman finding her power and then going on to break all the rules.

Reviewer: Karen McMillan

Macmillan Publishers