I did a little bit of ever so subtle hinting around Mother’s Day…ie I grabbed the book from the shelf in our local indie bookshop and brandished it in front of The Husband’s face whilst saying ‘I’d like this for Mothers Day please…’. Luckily he’s a right clever sausage that husband of mine and he stealthily bought it for me.
Firstly, lets address the fact that it has a beautiful cover, hardback, looking up through a canopy of trees. The title ‘The Doll Funeral’ jars with the beautiful serene looking front cover and I suppose this is kind of a theme throughout the book. Creepy things happening in normal surroundings under everyday circumstances and I often find that this is when stories are the most scary, when the cold fear creeps in insidiously. Magical realism?….is that what it’s called? I’m getting an education from watching Booktube people!
I’m going to start by sharing the blurb which drew me in so much. I’ve since put a picture out of this blurb on both Instagram and Twitter and people have said ‘what is this book? I need it!’. Here let me show you:
What is NOT to LOVE about that? Shadow who sits on the stairs *shudder*, The Wasp Lady and the woman in the buttercup dress hanging upside down from her seatbelt. I have read this blurb over and over just to get the same little chill, yes I’m odd. But isn’t it just marvellous?
I so wanted to fall in love with this book for lots of reasons and fall I did. Hard. I think it will most likely end up being one of my favourite books of the year. But we’ll see…
So the story is set around our protagonist Ruby who at the start of the book has just 13 and her ‘parents’ have just told her that they are not her real Mother and Father. Ruby is elated with the news. She suffers horribly at the hands of Mick her adoptive Father. He’s violent, abusive and cruel. Barbara her adoptive mother tries her best to step in between them but she’s not strong enough to stop the abuse.
Ruby has always known she’s a little bit special. She has a port wine stain birthmark around her eye and is able to see ‘ghosts’ or the spirits of the dead in various guises. The one who has been with her since she was small is Shadow.
‘When did Shadow arrive?, He’d always been there. Sometimes he was as dense as a nut and moved swiftly. Other times he drifted. Often, I could whisper in his ear and he would listen. Then he’d disappear for long weeks and I’d almost forget about him. Sometimes I wondered if he’d been my twin – If he’d slipped out behind me from the womb like the black afterbirth and nobody noticed. Yes, the Shadow had always been there. The darkness around his mouth I thought was dirt – or mud perhaps – I couldn’t tell. The first proper memory of him was when I was three. He was sitting on a shelf and watching me as I scribbled on the wall with fat wax crayons. Perhaps he knew better than me the pasting I’d get for that. Perhaps that’s why he’d turned up that day.’
With the news that she isn’t really Barbara and Mick’s daughter Ruby feels she now has a mission in life to find her real Mum and Dad who surely wouldn’t give her the terrible life she currently has at the hands of Mick.
‘Look, look how his fists are going in and out like little jack hammers working. See how his shirt has pulled out of his trousers with all the effort. See how Ruby’s fingers are getting busted because she’s covering up her head with them. Ruby’s father, he intends to mash her into a paste this time and smear her across the walls until she is no more. Maybe there’ll just be an eye stuck to the wall watching him as he goes to bed tonight that he’ll pluck off and lob out of the window like a golf ball.’
All the while she is on this mission the dead are all around her, closing in. They want to use her body as a vessel in which they can live life back in the real world again. The narrative flits back and forth between Ruby’s life (set in the early 1980’s) and the life of her mother Anna back in the 70’s. There are also a few chapters from the Shadow which I loved. They really help explain what’s happening to Ruby and why he’s there attached to her.
‘The thing being, with each new beating I see how your eye gets cracked a little more, the hole that lets us in. Each time new Shadows slip inside, Shadows such as me. The crack becomes wider and wider as you grow. I’m afraid one day it will form such a chasm it will swallow the rest of you up. I’m frightened for you Ruby. I’ve seen how close to death you have come. How it sniffs and stalks about you when the fists begin to fly. Then we come, the lost souls leaking into your eye, finding our way in…’
This story is written so beautifully even though it deals with some really dark subject matters. It’s quite lyrical and poetic in places, (I’m aware that sounds wanky) but I really enjoyed the writing style. I must say though that I preferred the narrative involving Ruby’s mother Anna, it was interesting to see the back story and give some explanation as to why Ruby ended up where she did.
I said earlier on, the creepiness in this story is quite subtle but chilling all the same. I often find that goings on are far more authentically scary when they happen in an everyday setting and not say for example in a typical old haunted mansion etc. You catch my drift? One example of this which sticks in my mind is when Ruby goes to a cleaning job to help her Mother Barbara out, she’s helping her dust the furniture:
‘Inside the fretwork was a kind of hollowed-out place and there was shuffling, a movement there. My eyes adjusted to look beyond, to focus out the room and see…..a creature there. No, a person. A felty coat pressed against the filigree. Scrunched up, folded in on itself. My eyes travelled up. Grey flesh, a head, sideways on. No eyes though, they were looking the other way, into the wall. It shifted again, as if trying to get comfortable in its confinement.’….
I mean how effin creepy is that?….who’s sitting in YOUR cupboard right now *shudder*. You never find out who it is or what they are doing there and that’s what makes it all the more sinister, although this is Ruby’s everyday life.
You really do feel for Ruby and Anna throughout the book. The chapters with Shadow in are quite emotional too and I was very happy and satisfied with the ending which tied up a few loose ends.
There’s almost too much I could say about this book but it’s difficult without giving away spoilers. It has so many layers and supernatural threads and its just fabulous. It is ultimately a kind of coming of age story I suppose, Ruby desperately trying to belong and find a sense of normality and family life when all around her is far from normal.
I also have Kate Hamers debut novel The Girl In The Red Coat so I’ll definitely be getting onto that one soon.
If you get the opportunity please read The Doll Funeral. I highly recommend it. Five stars!
I’ll be back soon with another reading wrap up.