I chose"The Trick To Time" by Kit De Waal as one of the six books I wanted to read from the sixteen books on the 2018 Women's Fiction Prize Longlist and I'm delighted that I did as it is one of the best books I've read so far this year. I recommend the audiobook version of "The Trick To Time" as Fiona Shaw's narration is perfect. Hearing the voices of the two Irish Aunts nicknames Pestilence and Famine, I was transported back to listening to my grandmother and her sister who spoke in exactly the same way.
I went into the book without reading the publisher's summary and I'm glad I did as it reads like the summary of a different book entirely, suggesting either magical realism or a historical romance.
For me, the strength of "The Trick To Time" is that exists purely to tell the story of how the main character, Mona, came to be Mona. The story is told in two parallel timelines: Mona as she reaches her sixtieth birthday, living alone in a seaside town in England, making dolls and providing some mysterious service to some of the women who visit her shop and Mona as a little girl, growing up in Ireland and then moving, in her late teens, to Birmingham to make a new life for herself.
The thing that most engaged me about the book was understanding how the little girl playing on the beach, and the young woman going nervously to her first dance in Birmingham, became the calm, strong but sad woman who makes wooden dolls. The parallel timeline structure of the book kept this at the centre of my attention and kept surprising me, not through the use of tricks or crazy plot twists but by how real and honest the changes in Mona seemed. I'm the same age as Mona and when I look back, I also wonder how the boy I was became the man I am. I was there and I yet I understand Mona's journey better than my own.
I was delighted to see that the sixty-year-old Mona isn't presented either as an old-woman far along the crone road or a woman still pretending to be twenty. Mona knows herself, she knows what's happened to her, she recognises the compromises and limitations in how she lives now and she has still a strong desire to find a way to live her life.
There is a real sense of time passing and perceptions changing while the people themselves remain who they have always truly been as if time simply wears away the bits of themselves that they'd only dressed up in in their youth.
This is a deeply empathic book about the nature of grief, the enduring impact of loss and the effect of time on emotions, memory and our own sense of identity.
I won't put spoilers in this review so I won't talk about the central trauma of Mona's life, except to say that it made me angry and it made me cry and it filled me with deep admiration for the service that Mona provided to others in later life.
Mona is a working-class Irish woman, living as an immigrant in Birmingham at the time of the IRA bombing that unleashed so much pain and hate. Her ambition is simple: to make a family with the man she loves. By today's standards, they have nothing but they have enough to live independently and dream of a life filled with children who are loved and cared for with: "A roof on the house, food on the table and a coat on the hook".. I recognise those kinds of circumstances and that simple ambition but I rarely see it in books that are nominated for literary prizes. I also recognise the situation of being an immigrant and just trying to make your way. I like the matter-of-fact way this was dealt with: no polemics, no dog-whistle posturing, just an honest personal narrative.
The writing is beautiful without being flowery. From the beginning, I understood that there was more going on than I yet knew about and that understanding filled me with pleasant anticipation of a real story worth waiting for. It was a story that caught me by surprise time and again, up to the final chapter, but each surprise made more sense of Mona's life and actions rather than feeling like a magic trick.
Although this is Mona's story, the other people in it are more than cyphers. They are people with histories and emotions and opinions of their own and they rarely take the path that convention or cliché would channel them to.
"One day, you will want these hours back, my girl. You will wonder how you lost them and you will want to get them back. There's a trick to time. You can make it expand or you can make it contract. Make it shorter or make it longer."
The gentle, sad truth of this sets the tone for the whole novel.
I'll be reading Kit de Waal's back-catalogue and anything else she publishes. I think she's an extraordinary talent.
If you'd like to know more about her and how she wrote "The Trick To Time", take a look at this Interview with Kit de Waal in "The Guardian" covering:
"The novelist on her Irish heritage, the passing of time and why she’s glad she didn’t start young"
This book isn't making a lot of sense. A woman hires a lawyer to stop the state from taking her land and tells her to find her three friends who were part of a so called High Tide Club. Then she tells her that one of them still sees her and the other friend is dead. So that's just one friend she needs to find. This is my puzzled face.
I am not big on sappy romance, but love historical romance when the history has an important presence in the story. This is exactly what I got with Keturah by Lisa Tawn Bergren, a beautifully written historical romance about women of strength in the 18th century.
Lady Keturah Tomlinson, a recent widow, and the oldest of Lord Banning’s three girls, has just received word of her father’s passing, on the Caribbean island of Nevis, where he was overseeing the running of the sugar plantation, Table Top, which provides the wealth for his family. She soon learns that the plantation’s sugar crop has been declining in recent years and that her father has mortgaged the plantation, as well as her family home in England, on a gamble to revive it. If she wishes to save all she has ever known, and provide for her sisters, she must get to Nevis, hire an overseer, and get the next harvest is the ground as quickly as possible. It may sound simple, but for a woman in the 18thcentury practically impossible.
As chance would have it, her childhood friend Gray Covington is also headed to Nevis. He has a small inheritance and plans to use it to revive his family’s own small acreage on Nevis. He is asked by a friend of Lord Banning’s to watch over the Banning girls and provide assistance as best he can. He quickly discovers that Lady Keturah is headstrong and does not trust or want anything to do with him or any other man for that matter. He will have to earn her trust quickly if he is to honor his promise and help her save Table Top.
What made me want to read this book is the setting of the story. I love the Caribbean and have been all over it, including St. Kitts and Nevis. The Caribbean islands are dotted with the remnants of sugar plantations and both English and French forts. Therefore, I was delighted to find that Ms. Bergren accounts where true to the period. In addition, the reality of slavery and women’s rights of the period are never easy subjects to write or read about, yet her story was truthful without being degrading. Keturah is, in short, a thoughtful written fictional account of life on the islands during that time.
While the main story line is the relationship between Keturah and Gray, the subplots worked well with the whole and added more depth to the overall work. Given that the book is at heart a romance, there is not a lot of action; nevertheless, there is enough intrigue and suspense to keep the reader wanting to turn the pages. There is a religious element to the story but it is subtle and not in any way off-putting.
I recommend Keturah to readers of romance and historical fiction both. It is a well done historical fiction and well worth adding to your TBR list.
I received a free copy via Library Thing’s member giveaway.
As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner is a poignant story about a young family who moves from a small town in Pennsylvania to Philadelphia to begin a new, and hopefully better, life after the death of their youngest child. The story is told from four points of view, Pauline Bright and her three daughters, Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa.
When Thomas Bright’s Uncle, a permanent bachelor, asks him to move to Philadelphia to learn and take over his funeral pallor business, Tom sees it as a chance to lift his family out of poverty. With much hope, the family relocates and starts their new life. As everyone settles in to their new home in Philadelphia, the Great War in Europe is raging and the United States enters the conflict and Tom is called to serve his country. Not long after, the Spanish Flu makes it way to North America and to the city the Bright’s now call home.
Pauline begs her parents to let them return to Quakertown until the flu has passed. They refuse her, because they fear she will bring the flu with her and give it to her sister’s new born. Forced to stay, Pauline watches as the number of dead from the flu arrive at the funeral parlor in staggering numbers. She is careful to keep her mouth covered and those of the children. Yet as careful as she is, tragedy strikes the Bright family and Willa, the youngest, is the first to fall ill. Then just as she turns the corner toward recover, Pauline becomes ill too. Pauline fought hard against the flu in little Willa and she has no reserves left to fight her own battle with this enemy. In the end she succumbs and not long after their Uncle dies too.
Amidst all the tragedy, Tom and the girls open their home and their hearts to an orphaned boy. How can they not, when the city is now full of children that have lost their parents to the flu epidemic? Little do they realize that this one selfless decision will give them the hope and courage they will need to face the future.
As Bright as Heaven is an elegantly written, well researched, historical fiction. Ms. Meissner, knows how to write a story that pulls at your heart strings. The characters are portrayed with a realism and authenticity that is hard to find. The story flowed so nicely and the end came much too quickly. So quickly in fact, that it felt a little rushed. That aside, it is well worth reading. I recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction and women’s fiction.
For more of my reviews, and author interviews, see my book blog at www.thespineview.com.