Published by Orenda Books
ebook: 15 August 2017 | Paperback: 30 September 2017
It’s a pleasure to be cohosting today’s blog tour spot for Louise Beech’s latest book, Maria in the Moon. Firstly, I have a lovely guest post from Louise and my review follows at the end.
by Louise Beech
Maria in the Moon is a novel essentially about memory. How it controls us. The potency of it. And the power of a lack of it, as in the case of Catherine-Maria who cannot remember her ninth year. Naturally, writing the book got me thinking about my own memories.
When I write, sometimes it feels like I’m searching for them. My childhood is shrouded in mystery at times. There was much that left me baffled. I watched my parents’ divorce unfold. Saw my mother go through a serious depression, culminating in a suicide attempt that left her in hospital for a year, while my brother, two sisters and I were cared for by our grandma and foster carers. We then experienced a succession of our mother’s entirely inappropriate boyfriends.
We also didn’t see our father for twenty-six years, so when we met again we wanted all the stories he had. We were hungry for those missing pieces. Asked him endless questions. But of course, they were that – stories. His version of what happened. Where our names came from (differing from our mother’s version). What we were like as babies (again different).
My siblings and I recently got our official care records, hoping for answers there. But much is blacked out. Confidentiality rights means that we can only see things where others are not mentioned.
My mother told me her own stories as I grew up. I probably get a lot of my creativity from her. She weaves a tantalising tale. She told me about my conception on Valentine’s Day – this could be true as I was born nine months after. How she once ‘forgot me’ and left me in my pram at the shops, only realising once home that she was missing something. As I grew up, these stories often altered. Really, I want my own version. The truth. And I’m sure I look for it in the fiction I create.
But just as Catherine-Maria’s lack of memory protects her, I wonder if mine does me. What are the things I don’t remember? There are whole chunks of them. Is it better not to remember? In Catherine’s case, it’s a good thing. She can heal once she has her truth. Face the people who let her down. Understand herself better. But this is fiction, where readers often want things to at least be resolved. Life isn’t that exact.
Perhaps one day I’ll write a memoir. But until then – until I remember everything in order to do so – I’ll keep writing the fiction that helps me make sense of everything…
About the book:
Long ago my beloved Nanny Eve chose my name. Then one day she stopped calling me it. I try now to remember why, but I just can’t.’ Thirty-two-year-old Catherine Hope has a great memory. But she can’t remember everything. She can’t remember her ninth year. She can’t remember when her insomnia started. And she can’t remember why everyone stopped calling her Catherine-Maria. With a promiscuous past, and licking her wounds after a painful breakup, Catherine wonders why she resists anything approaching real love. But when she loses her home to the devastating deluge of 2007 and volunteers at Flood Crisis, a devastating memory emerges … and changes everything. Dark, poignant and deeply moving, Maria in the Moon is an examination of the nature of memory and truth, and the defences we build to protect ourselves, when we can no longer hide…
I’m a huge fan of Louise Beech’s writing and both of her previous books have been in my Top Books of the Year (How to Be Brave, 2015) and (The Mountain in my Shoe, 2016), (both being reviewed here on the blog). When you’ve loved the previous books, there always feels a little bit of a worry in reading a new one. It’s not always a given that you will love it as much and I admit that when I first started reading this, I wasn’t sure at all.
Maria in the Moon is Louise Beech’s third book to actually be published (but I believe it is the first book that was written). It has been released from that bottom drawer to find its way in the world (quite rightly so), and is yet another example, if one were needed, of how beautifully she writes.
The author has experienced at first hand the awful flooding that took place in Hull in 2007 and uses this knowledge to highlight the desperation of those affected. Thankfully I have never yet been in this situation and I can’t imagine how awful it must be to not only have filthy water invading your home but destroying your most precious possessions.
Our main character Catherine is a victim of the flooding. Her house is being rebuilt and she is sleeping on a sofa in a rented flat above a curry house. Alongside her part time job at a care home, she volunteers for Flood Crisis, where she chose the name Katrina (to differentiate between her and another Catherine at the centre) because at the time she happened to be looking at a newspaper headline about ‘Hurricane Katrina’ causing havoc. I must admit that when I first saw the name Katrina here, I immediately thought of the 1990’s Eurovision winner, Katrina and the Waves (keeping with the water theme!) but …moving on! Flood Crisis is a telephone support service to help those affected by the flooding. It is this aspect of the story that I found incredibly moving and you realise that it isn’t just those who have been directly affected who need help; there are people who rely on their neighbours but those neighbours have been moved out of their homes – the isolation of those left behind is apparent as they are marooned in buildings completely on their own.
When I initially started reading, I didn’t find Catherine an easy person to like. She could be difficult, sometimes aggressive and sarcastic but there were occasions when she made me laugh with her sarcasm and caustic comments. However the person we see working in the Flood Centre is completely different. To distressed callers she is Katrina with a patient and gentle manner, she listens carefully and there are some that she feels a connection to but the rules forbid her from dispensing advice or from getting too close. It is clear that some trauma has affected Catherine very deeply and reading between the lines, it isn’t difficult to work out what it could be.
Catherine can’t remember her ninth year or why she stopped being called Catherine-Maria. Or why her grandmother’s beloved Virgin Mary statue was smashed. There is a huge gap where these memories should be which has tainted her adult life. She doesn’t ‘do’ relationships and pushes people away when they get too close.
Maria in the Moon is just beautifully written and poignant and the underlying focus is on memories and trauma that are so painful to remember that they remain hidden deep inside until such time as something in us is unlocked and we are ready to face them. As a child Catherine-Maria was happy until her 8th birthday. Then her dad died, her relationship with her stepmother deteriorated and life for Catherine changed forever.
There are some wonderfully drawn characters here. Catherine has a distinct personality and although I wasn’t sure of her at first, I grew quite fond of her, and at times could have cried for her. Her strained relationship with her stepmother was expertly depicted and so believable.
Mother, marched over; her face was wet. I thought she might hug me. Maybe kiss me. But she slapped my face. Twice. I recoiled. “Worried?! she cried, “You stupid, selfish, horrible girl. You’re always thinking of yourself. Always going off and causing trouble. Why can’t you be more like Celine? [her stepsister] Why can’t you just be….be…pleasant. I never should have taken you on. God, if I’d known”.
Her affection for her father’s sister, Auntie (Hairy) Mary was touching and the relationship between them counterbalanced her stepmother’s apparent lack of attention. Her colleagues at the Flood Centre both helped and irritated her – the office jobsworth ‘Jangly’ Jane, Catherine’s buddy mentor Christopher – they are all part of Catherine’s story, for better or worse.
Maria in the Moon is not a thriller but an emotional drama. Whilst there are undoubtedly dark and disturbing elements to the story, it is very much character driven. The writing is flawless in its construction and it is one of those books that you need to savour and read slowly in order to fully appreciate it.
I needn’t have worried about not loving this book as much. Maria in the Moon is another triumph for Louise Beech.
My thanks to the publisher Orenda Books for the review copy and to Anne Cater for the invitation to take part in the tour.
About the author:
Louise Beech remembers sitting in her father’s cross-legged lap while he tried to show her his guitar’s chords. He’s a musician. Her small fingers stumbled and gave up. She was three. His music sheets fascinated her – such strange language that translated into music. Her mother teaches languages, French and English, so her fluency with words fired Louise’s interest. She knew from being small that she wanted to write, to create, to make magic.
Her short stories have won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting twice for the Bridport Prize and being published in a variety of UK magazines. Her first play, Afloat, was performed at Hull Truck Theatre in 2012. She also wrote a ten-year newspaper column for the Hull Daily Mail about being a parent, garnering love/hate criticism. Her debut novel, How to be Brave, was a Guardian Readers’ pick for 2015.
When she was fifteen Louise bet her mother ten pounds she’d be published by the time she was thirty. She missed this self-set deadline by two months. Her mother is still waiting for the money.