This book was always going to potentially be either a hit or a miss for me but I was willing to take the chance. I have always made it known that I struggle with books told from the perspective of a teenage female protagonist. I knew this book infact had several young female characters and I was dubious. Having said that, the synopsis explained that the story starts when a mother driving her children home from school gets into a fight with one of her daughters and eventually kicks her out of the car, leaving her at the side of the road in her school uniform with nightfall fast approaching. Now what intrigued me about this was actually the mindset of the mother and not so much what happened to the daughter.
The opening scene in the car told from 15 year old Libby’s perspective is absolutely dripping with tension. You can feel the anger rippling through the car carrying her and her four siblings Marie, Tommy, Ellen and Beatrice. Her mother’s facial features and erratic driving during the journey perfectly depict the mounting tension within the vehicle. When Ellen is eventually kicked out of the car, the other children can’t quite believe what has happened and yet they don’t dare to question their mother and her actions.
When 12 year old Ellen takes the naive decision to hitchhike, her actions reverberate through the rest of her siblings as they try to conceal her naivety from their mother, the consequences of which are potentially disastrous.
However, keeping things from their mother is not too arduous a task as she appears to be quite distant, works a lot and shuts herself away somewhat when she is at home. On top of this she favours young Beatrice, the daughter of a man she is having an affair with and not the offspring of her deceased husband.
The consequences of Ellen’s decision to try to hitchhike home flow out through the rest of the family and certain people in the wider community. I don’t really want to say too much more than that plot wise as it will just spoil the whole thing for you.
I didn’t struggle with the teenage female perspective at all really which was such a relief. Libby is a sharp young girl and I found her a very interesting character. In fact each of the siblings have their own very distinct characters and personalities which set them apart from each other whilst also showing their strong sibling bonds.
If after reading the synopsis you are expecting to be picking up a thriller, you’d be wrong. This is more an exploration of family, siblings and the small fractures that open out within any family with problems. It’s also a story of a harried mother, a woman bringing up five children alone after the death of her husband and the breakdown of her marriage before that.
I really enjoyed Una Mannion’s writing style and thankfully connected with the main narrative voice.
I was drawn to this book initially by the intriguing title but after reading the blurb and discovering How The One Armed Sister Sweeps Her House tells the multigenerational tale of mother’s and their relationships with their daughters I was drawn in even further.
The book is set in a beach town in Barbados and opens with Wilma, a grandmother, telling her teenage granddaughter Lala the cautionary tale of the one armed sister. This tale serves as a warning to young girls who let curiosity get the better of them and who defy warnings.
We then move forward in time a handful of years and find Lala, now a beach hair-braider for the tourists, married to Adan and heavily pregnant. In the early hours of the morning Lala goes into premature labour and sets out in search of Adan who has left her alone to go and do a ‘job’.
She eventually finds him exiting one of the large beach front houses owned by the wealthy. She asks no questions and goes on to give birth to a daughter of her own. When it becomes clear that a wealthy white businessman has been murdered, Lala has to protect her husband.
Lala’s marriage has its foundations in violence. Adan has a fierce temper and Lala has suffered greatly at his hands. When their taut and fractured relationship is the catalyst for a hugely devastating event, Lala’s life spins further out of control.
We also hear from Mira Whalen, the wife of the murdered businessman. Mira’s life has been destroyed by her husband Peter’s violent death and she no longer feels safe in their beachfront home.
We go on to learn about Lala’s dead mother Esme and the violence she suffered at the hands of men, in particular her own father, Wilma’s husband, Carson. Carson rapes his daughter Esme and Wilma essentially does little else to protect her daughter other than make her sleep in a locked shed to try and keep Carson away.
There are generations of women abused and hurt by men. Violence which is quite often turned a blind eye to and taken as being just how it is. Women keep their mouths shut and put up with their husbands deplorable behaviour. This is also a story of how women and mothers let their own children down by pandering to the needs of the men in their lives and neglecting their own flesh and blood.
This book is packed with characters even though Lala is our main protagonist. There are various peripheral characters who have small sections of narrative but you can feel their personalities jumping right off the page in their few short paragraphs. We have The Queen Of Sheba, a prostitute working the beachfront, looking for business with tourists. She is a feisty and bold woman who has a tricky relationship with the local detective Beckles.
There’s also Rosa, Mira Whalen’s maid who is a force to be reckoned with. A woman who takes control and looks after not only Mira, but Mira’s step children in the wake of their fathers death. A powerhouse of a woman who keeps the household together in the toughest of times.
The pacing of this book is super fast with lots going on. It jumps back and forth in time but remains mainly in the 70’s and 80’s. The various changes in narrative move the story on at quite a pace and initially I was a little worried that I wouldn’t keep a handle on who was who and how they were related but this was not the case. Each character is distinctive enough to stand on their own.
It’s a very tough read at times and I must give trigger warnings for rape, domestic violence, miscarriage, and infant loss. Whilst it remains difficult to watch these women struggle through the most horrific times, and witness their almost stoic acceptance of their lot, they do not come across as victims. There is such strength in these women. They may have to dig deep to access this strength within themselves but it is most definitely there in spades.
I flew through this book super fast and was totally absorbed. I would thoroughly recommend it.
Thank you as always to the publisher for my review copy.
A brand new year and a brand new set of books to get our juices flowing! Aren’t we lucky!
I have had a peruse of the available publisher catalogues online, I have been screenshotting like a demon on Twitter and Instagram and I have been making notes aplenty of some books I am super pumped for in 2021.
Now, the list was quite sizeable up to June/July so I will break it down into blog posts covering each quarter. This post obviously deals with books being published in Jan/Feb/March. I will present them in publication date order and I will apologise now for this post being a little blurb heavy but I haven’t read these books yet so I can’t accurately sum them up for you and I wouldn’t want to mislead anyone! I’m not a huge advocate of including blurbs in blog posts but we work with what we’ve got don’t we!
Luckenbooth by Jenny Fagan- William Heinemann – 14th January 2021
Stories tucked away on every floor. No. 10 Luckenbooth Close is an archetypal Edinburgh tenement. The devil’s daughter rows to the shores of Leith in a coffin. The year is 1910 and she has been sent to a tenement building in Edinburgh by her recently deceased father to bear a child for a wealthy man and his fiancée. The harrowing events that follow lead to a curse on the building and its residents – a curse that will last for the rest of the century. Over nine decades, No. 10 Luckenbooth Close bears witness to emblems of a changing world outside its walls. An infamous madam, a spy, a famous Beat poet, a coal miner who fears daylight, a psychic: these are some of the residents whose lives are plagued by the building’s troubled history in disparate, sometimes chilling ways. The curse creeps up the nine floors and an enraged spirit world swells to the surface, desperate for the true horror of the building’s longest kept secret to be heard.
I think this looks PHENOMENAL. It couldn’t sound anymore gothic and unsettling! You lot know I am HERE for books like this. I am also a huge fan of stories set in one house over decades. My pre-order is in and I CANNOT WAIT!
The Shape Of Darkness by LauraPurcell – Bloomsbury 21st January
Silhouette artist Agnes is struggling to keep her business afloat. Still recovering from a serious illness herself, making enough money to support her elderly mother and her orphaned nephew Cedric has never been easy, but then one of her clients is murdered shortly after sitting for Agnes, and then another, and another… Desperately seeking an answer, Agnes approaches Pearl, a child spirit medium lodging in Bath with her older half-sister and her ailing father, hoping that if Pearl can make contact with those who died, they might reveal who killed them. But Agnes and Pearl quickly discover that instead they may have opened the door to something that they can never put back…
If I’m honest, Laura Purcell could write some words on the back of a fag packet and I’d read it. I have absolutely loved her previous three books and they live very happily on my forever shelf. They are books I would recommend again and again and have bought for various people. I will pick up The Shape Of Darkness as my next read and I can’t wait to dive in!
Insatiable by Daisy Buchanan- Sphere 11th February 2021
Stuck in a dead-end job, broken-hearted, broke and estranged from her best friend: Violet’s life is nothing like she thought it would be. She wants more – better friends, better sex, a better job – and she wants it now. So, when Lottie – who looks like the woman Violet wants to be when she grows up – offers Violet the chance to join her exciting start-up, she bites. Only it soon becomes clear that Lottie and her husband Simon are not only inviting Violet into their company, they are also inviting her into their lives.Seduced by their townhouse, their expensive candles and their Friday-night sex parties, Violet cannot tear herself away from Lottie, Simon or their friends. But is this really the more Violet yearns for? Will it grant her the satisfaction she is so desperately seeking?
I’ve already talked in NB Magazine about how much I’m looking forward to this one. I’m quite often to be found wading in the murky waters of gothic historical fiction but every now and again I like a contemporary story with a bit of a sexy fizz, ya get me? Anyway, I’m fizzing for this one and will be getting to it very soon.
Nightshift by Kiare Ladner – Picador 18th February 2021
When twenty three year old Meggie meets distant and enigmatic Sabine, she recognizes in her the person she would like to be. Giving up her daytime existence, her reliable boyfriend, and the trappings of a normal life in favour of working the same nightshifts as Sabine could be the perfect escape for Meggie. She finds a liberating sense of freedom in indulging her growing preoccupation with Sabine and plunges herself into another existence, gradually immersing herself in the transient and uncertain world of the nightshift worker.
Now this one sounds dark and gritty and just a little bit unsettling which is exactly what gets my blood pumping! I can’t wait to immerse myself in Meggy and Sabine’s nighttime world.
Before My Actual Heart Breaks by Tish Delaney – Hutchinson 18th February 2021.
When she was young Mary Rattigan wanted to fly. She was going to take off like an angel from heaven and leave the muck and madness of troubled Northern Ireland behind. Nothing but the Land of Happy Ever After would do for her. But as a Catholic girl with a B.I.T.C.H. for a Mammy and a silent Daddy, things did not go as she and Lizzie Magee had planned. Now, five children, twenty-five years, an end to the bombs and bullets, enough whiskey to sink a ship and endless wakes and sandwich teas later, Mary’s alone. She’s learned plenty of hard lessons and missed a hundred steps towards the life she’d always hoped for.Will she finally find the courage to ask for the love she deserves? Or is it too late?
This book actually popped up at me when I was Googling another book. I love it when then happens. I love fiction set in Ireland and I think this one could be a bit of a gut wrencher!
Bright Burning Things by Lisa Harding – Bloomsbury 4th March 2021
Being Tommy’s mother is too much for Sonya. Too much love, too much fear, too much longing for the cool wine she gulps from the bottle each night. Because Sonya is burning the fish fingers, and driving too fast, and swimming too far from the shore, and Tommy’s life is in her hands. Once there was the thrill of a London stage, a glowing acting career, fast cars, handsome men. But now there are blackouts and bare cupboards, and her estranged father showing up uninvited. There is Mrs O’Malley spying from across the road. There is the risk of losing Tommy – forever.
Oh you lot know I love a story of a struggling mother. There’s just something about them that (dare I say it) I relate to! I also can’t wait to find out more about ‘Mrs O’Malley spying from across the road’…..
Hot Stew by Fiona Mozley – John Murray Press 18th March 2021
Pungent, steamy, insatiable Soho; the only part of London that truly never sleeps. Tourists dawdling, chancers skulking, addicts shuffling, sex workers strutting, punters prowling, businessmen striding, the homeless and the lost. Down Wardour Street, ducking onto Dean Street, sweeping into L’Escargot, darting down quiet back alleyways, skirting dumpsters and drunks, emerging on to raucous main roads, fizzing with energy and riotous with life.
On a corner, sits a large townhouse, the same as all its neighbours. But this building hosts a teeming throng of rich and poor, full from the basement right up to the roof terrace. Precious and Tabitha call the top floors their home but it’s under threat; its billionaire-owner Agatha wants to kick the women out to build expensive restaurants and luxury flats. Men like Robert, who visit the brothel, will have to go elsewhere. Those like Cheryl, who sleep in the basement, will have to find somewhere else to hide after dark. But the women won’t go quietly. Soho is their turf and they are ready for a fight.
I read and really enjoyed Elmet by Fiona Mozley when I was a judge for the Sunday Times Young Writer Of the Year Award 2018. She’s such a super sharp but emotive writer and I think I will always want to read what she creates. Hot Stew is no exception and I can’t wait to get to it.
Girl In The Walls by A J Gnuse – 4th Estate 18th March 2021
Elise knows every inch of the house. She knows which boards will creak. She knows where the gaps are in the walls. She knows which parts can take her in, hide her away. It’s home, after all. The home her parents made for her. And home is where you stay, no matter what. Eddie calls the same house his home. Eddie is almost a teenager now. He must no longer believe in the girl he sometimes sees from the corner of his eye. He needs her to disappear. But when his older brother senses her, too, they are faced with a question: how do they get rid of someone they aren’t sure even exists? And, if they cast her out, what other threats might they invite in?
This has been described by Jess Kidd as ‘a uniquely gothic tale of grief, belonging and hiding in plain sight’. Just the word gothic and I’m there. I’ve had an early copy of this book on my shelf for so long now and I’m savouring it until closer to publication. I think it’s going to be an absolute belter.
The Good Neighbours by Nina Allan – Riverrun 18th March
Cath is a photographer hoping to go freelance, working in a record shop to pay the rent and eking out her time with her manager Steve. He thinks her photography is detective work, drawing attention to things that would otherwise pass unseen and maybe he’s right . . .
Starting work on her new project – photographing murder houses – she returns to the island where she grew up for the first time since she left for Glasgow when she was just eighteen. The Isle of Bute is embedded in her identity, the draughty house that overlooked the bay, the feeling of being nowhere, the memory of her childhood friend Shirley Craigie and the devastating familicide of her family by the father, John Craigie.
Arriving at the Craigie house, Cath finds that it’s occupied by Financial Analyst Alice Rahman. Her bid to escape the city lifestyle, the anxiety she felt in that world, led her to leave London and settle on the island. The strangeness of the situation brings them closer, leading them to reinvestigate the Craigie murder. Now, within the walls of the Craigie house, Cath can uncover the nefarious truths and curious nature of John Craigie: his hidden obsession with the work of Richard Dadd and the local myths of the fairy folk.
I read The Doll Maker by Nina Allan some time ago which had really creepy dark fairytale-esque stories interspersed in the main narrative. They would have made a fantastic stand-alone short story collection all in their own. The Good Neighbours hooked me in with the photographing of murder houses and the mention of local myths of ‘fairy folk’. YES PLEASE.
So there we have it. Just a selection of the books I’m most looking forward to reading in the next three months.