I would like to think most of you are aware of Yvonne Spence and her sterling and tireless efforts with the 1000 Voices campaign. Many I hope follow her blog (if not it is here) where I first found her as the sole commentator on the Scottish Independence referendum who talked any common sense and decency on that difficult and passion-blinding subject. In addition to these many talents she has also written a rather excellent novel which, belatedly, I have gotten around to reading.
Confession number one: I read the blurb (here)
Stella isn’t allowed in the basement. But she’s there, hiding from her parents’ quarrels and whispering secrets to a beautiful mother in a painting. Thirty years later she still doesn’t know who that mother and her baby are. Nor can she remember what she did last night.
Woken by her young daughter, Kirsty, after a night of heavy drinking, depression engulfs Stella as she struggles to face the reality of her life. She argues with her volatile lover, Macklin, and he storms out. Haunted by half-remembered family secrets, she seeks solace from her brother, but he refuses to divulge what he knows.
Stella is a schoolteacher, struggling to control classes, and jeopardises her job when she falls behind and lies to her boss. An explosive phone call with Kirsty’s father, Ross, has Stella convinced she also risks losing her daughter, the one person she is sure she loves. Self-esteem plunging, Stella turns to booze again, and collapses at work.
Help comes from two colleagues. With these women’s friendship, Stella finds the confidence to seek counseling. As Stella faces the effects of her alcohol abuse on her daughter, she also begins to see that her relationship with her own mother was not what she thought it was. To understand her present, Stella must delve deep into family secrets from her past. What she discovers changes everything she thought she knew.
and wondered if it was the sort of book I would enjoy. I’m a moody reader (in the sense I need to be in the right mood for the book) and I wondered if I might need a bit of a run at this one to get into to it. Relationships? Depression? Counselling? Struggling teachers? Not my usual mix. Though the dark family secret bit did intrigue…
Why did I worry? It is really very excellent. I could not put it down which, when holidaying in the Outer Hebrides and 22 hours of daylight wasn’t exactly a great call. When two o’clock in the morning feels like four in the afternoon, you are really in trouble. But, boy, was it worth it. She tells a fantastic story at a great pace with depth and flair. The characters are beautifully constructed. This is the review I have just posted on Amazon…
I came to this via the author’s blog, not sure if this was my sort of read. However, slow reader though I am I finished this in two and a bit days which is exceptional for me. Stella’s struggles with alcohol, family, single parenthood, teaching – you name it – pull us forward. The device of young Stella’s story intertwined with the contemporary narrative works whereas often one story has greater force and you want to skip one to return to the other – not here. Some of the writing is vaguely experimental, a series of devices to pull us into Stella’s wobbly mental processes but it makes her journey and our seat at her shoulder all the more fascinating. If I have a suggestion it is that some of the advice pieces from Edith and Nancy clunk a little – they come across as rather declaratory rather than as natural dialogue. And perhaps the biggish reveal – which you’ll have to read to find out what I mean – wasn’t needed. Others may think differently and I’m still unsure. On balance this is an author who knows what she is about so I’m happy to defer to her judgement here and look forward to her next novel.
I gave it five stars. There are a few editing glitches, some rogue spacings but nothing to put off even the most pedantic reader. Go buy it good people – this is the Amazon link; this is one heck of a talent.