Published by Faber & Faber
available in ebook & hardback | paperback (4 January 2018)
Source: My own purchased copy
I enjoyed Kate Hamer’s previous book, The Girl in the Red Coat (reviewed here) and so bought this. As ever, it remained on my Kindle unread until I was invited to take part in the blog tour for the paperback release. It seemed the perfect opportunity to bump it up the reading mountain, and so here are my thoughts.
| About the Book |
My name is Ruby. I live with Barbara and Mick. They’re not my real parents, but they tell me what to do, and what to say. I’m supposed to say that the bruises on my arms and the black eye came from falling down the stairs.
But there are things I won’t say. I won’t tell them I’m going to hunt for my real parents. I don’t say a word about Shadow, who sits on the stairs, or the Wasp Lady I saw on the way to bed.
I did tell Mick that I saw the woman in the buttercup dress, hanging upside down from her seat belt deep in the forest at the back of our house. I told him I saw death crawl out of her. He said he’d give me a medal for lying.
I wasn’t lying. I’m a hunter for lost souls and I’m going to be with my real family. And I’m not going to let Mick stop me.
| My Review |
It is 1983 and Ruby Flood is told by her parents, Mick and Barbara on her thirteenth birthday that she is not actually their own child but is adopted. Instead of being devastated by this news, Ruby jumps for joy and vows to find her real family who she is sure will love her. You see, her father Mick is a violent man who beats her, and Barbara, although gentler by nature can’t stand up to her husband to protect Ruby. I know it was a different time but Social Services should have been all over this family! After Mick’s attacks, Ruby has to stay away from school until the bruises fade. Ostracised at school by her peers for ‘being different’ (she has a red birthmark on her face), at times my heart broke for poor lonely Ruby. There were times when she got her own back on him and although you know that she would ultimately suffer for her actions, I was silently cheering her on!
Through the pages of this haunting and evocative story, Kate Hamer brings the character of Ruby to life. Ruby has a gift – which is both a blessing and a curse. Like her grandmother before her, she can see those who have departed this earth. They appear so regularly that she gives some of them names, for example, Wasp Lady, and Shadow – described as a young child, who follows her around. Throughout the story and in various place, Ruby sees people who have died. Although at times I did get slightly confused as to who was real or not, this was cleverly done.
Other chapters are told by Anna. The timeline is 1970 and 17 year old Anna discovers that she is pregnant. Unmarried, with an unreliable boyfriend and living with her parents, her options are limited. Anna’s story both captivated and saddened me in equal measures and I looked forward to getting back to her narrative. Besides Ruby, Anna was one of my favourite characters. She was very young and impressionable, but also had an inner determination and the bond she had with her baby was plain to see.
The story is mainly set in the Forest of Dean, which thanks to the atmospheric and sometimes oppressive description becomes a character in its own right. I’ve never been there but having Googled it, the images certainly match the picture of the forest that I had in my mind.
Kate Hamer writes beautifully and through her carefully chosen words, Ruby and the people she meets on her quest to discover her real family leap off the page. The slower pace of the book works perfectly, for this is not a thriller (although there are some surprises), but a story of a young girl trying to find her way and how strong the bond of motherhood can be. There were times when I felt that Ruby seemed to be much older than her years and I kept forgetting that she was only 13, although I suspect perhaps her homelife had this effect on her.
The Doll Funeral tells the often heartrending story of a little girl who just wants to be loved with a nod to fairy tales and magic. The supernatural element of it (and there is a lot) may not appeal to everyone, but if you just accept the story for what it is, then you are in for an emotive and engrossing read.
My thanks to Joanna for the invitation to take part in the tour.
| About the Author |
Kate Hamer’s first novel ‘The Girl in the Red Coat’ (Faber & Faber, 2015) was shortlisted for The Costa First Novel Prize, the British Book Industry Awards Debut Fiction Book of the Year, the John Creasy (New Blood) Dagger and the Wales Book of the Year. It was a Sunday Times bestseller and has been translated into 18 different languages. Kate won the Rhys Davies Short Story Prize and she has had short stories published in anthologies such ‘A Fiction Map of Wales’, ‘New Welsh Short Stories’ and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. She’s written articles and reviews for The Independent, The Mail on Sunday and The New York Times. Kate grew up in the West country and rural Pembrokeshire and now lives with her husband in Cardiff. Her second novel ‘The Doll Funeral’ was a Bookseller book of the month and an editor’s pick for Radio 4’s Open Book.