Book Review: My Europe

My Europe is an anthology of stories, poems, drama and essays exploring Britain’s relationship with Europe in the wake of the contentious referendum result that could lead to Britain leaving the European Union in a process commonly referred to as Brexit. The publisher writes:

“The anthology is about Europe, not just the EU, but in the interests of fairness we tried to include more pieces in favour of Brexit. Alas, it proved difficult”

In trying to present the facts around such a complex and emotive subject, certain of the short essays are a tad dry to read. Nevertheless, they succeed in offering up information that is too often drowned out in hectoring rhetoric by supporters on both sides, and in the click-bait seeking media. The dismay felt by so many at the unleashing of previously suppressed xenophobic hatred has led Remainers to consider the prospect of Brexit an unmitigated disaster. What is rarely now mentioned, but is acknowledged within these pages, is that the behemothic bureaucracy of the EU is far from ideal.

“In truth, Brussels is a democracy-free zone. From the EU’s inception in 1950, Brussels became the seat of a bureaucracy administering a heavy industry cartel, vested with unprecedented law-making capacities. Even though the EU has evolved a great deal since, and acquired many of the trappings of a confederacy, it remains in the nature of the beast to treat the will of electorates as a nuisance that must be, somehow, negated.”

In the first essay, Suzy Adderley writes:

“For many Tories, the neoliberal stance of the EU is not problematic, but free movement of labour and loss of sovereignty are anathema, while for left-wing socialists, the neoliberal structures are highly problematic whilst they would support the free movement of labour and regulatory structures. So it seems to me unrealistic to expect either main party, as presently constituted, to as a whole or entirely support or reject Brexit.”

Throughout this book there is clear headed recognition of why the referendum vote went as it did (hindsight being a wonderful thing). There are also attempts at increasing understanding of the cost of Brexit should it go ahead. This does not just explore the social cost, although the allegorical stories and poems cover this effectively. Several essays try to measure the economic impact, especially on those already so badly affected by recent government policies promoting austerity. Long term membership of the EU has created legally binding agreements as well as financial obligations that cannot easily be unpicked. Lawyers are being kept busy.

As I read each contribution I noted that the authors had travelled to countries in Europe and experienced their different cultures, something that many people will not have had the means or opportunity to do. The authors’ desires for wider European assimilation suggests that when they have been fortunate enough to travel abroad they have not been ring fenced with like minded tourists in coastal resorts but rather have explored and interacted widely. There is no acknowledgement of the ability and privilege this reflects.

There is mention of the problems of anger and nostalgia, a sepia tinted nationalism that has little basis in reality. With the country names and borders of the world in constant flux this is not a purely British phenomenon.

Several of the essays that purport to understand the Leavers’ point of view concentrate on the economic penalty Brexit would bring. There are mentions of important issues such as protection of workers rights, cross border health care agreements, research projects that pool resources and funding in order to share results across universities. Whilst not wishing to discount these potential problems, I thought it a shame that presentations for the Leavers side of the argument focused entirely on the negative aspects. Likewise, those authors waxing lyrical on the benefits of remaining in the EU concentrated on the social and cultural benefits of an open Europe, largely neglecting to mention the costs and frustrations of continuing EU membership.

In his essay, The Levellers and the Diggers, Giles Fraser writes:

“the bastard conqueror isn’t the European Union – we freely gave the powers away. But the EU has meekly become his servant. The bastard conqueror is international finance that ignores borders, locates itself offshore to pay no tax, and has the EU in its pocket. Look at how the EU dealt with Greece, imposing crippling austerity on its people. Look at the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the massive trade deal that the EU has been negotiating – mostly in secret – with the US. Under the terms of this deal, large companies will be able to sue nation states if they introduce policies that curb its profits. I’d vote against TTIP if I could. But because of the way the EU is negotiating the deal, I have no say in the matter. And nor do you. The EU has become a neoliberal club, and I will not worship the God they serve.”

In committing itself to a timescale for leaving the EU without a clear idea of what must be achieved, the current British government has set itself up to either fail or wander blind into unchartered territory. The EU will not make it easy for Britain because otherwise other countries may follow suit.

In the publisher’s conclusion she states:

“There might possibly be eventual benefits in leaving the EU, but it could take a generation. […] The true tragedy is that Brexit is a distraction from far more important problems needing to be addressed”

The Brexit issue has become so polarised it is difficult to debate. I applaud this attempt at presenting both sides in what is an informative and engaging anthology with a variety of writing styles and a mix of contributors. It would be a step forward if readers from both sides could allow their strong opinions to be rationally questioned. While such an outcome appears elusive, books such as this provide necessary insight.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Patrician Press. 


Gig Review: Sam Guglani and Katy Mahood in Bath

On Tuesday of this week I attended a friendly and fascinating event at Toppings bookshop in Bath. Sam Guglani, author of Histories, and Katy Mahood, author of Entanglement, were in conversation, discussing how the intersections and collisions of human experience can be explored in fiction. Originally the evening had been intended to be a discussion between two doctors about how their work in medicine inspired their writing. Unfortunately Joanna Cannon had to cancel due to illness so Katy stepped in. She proved a fine replacement.

The evening opened with introductions and readings. The authors then questioned each other about aspects of their books. I provide below a summary of their discussion.

Histories is set in a hospital over the course of a week and is structured as a series of interlinked stories told from the points of view of a variety of people who inhabit the place. Katy asked Sam if he used the hospital as a vehicle to explore characters or if the characters were a means to explore how a hospital functions.

Sam talked of how a patient arrives at hospital, presents their symptoms and expects a diagnosis. The reality is a lot more messy. Hospitals are often large and sprawling. Patients are ill so not at their best. Doctors will have differing areas of expertise, skill levels and experience. All of these factors collide in their interactions. Discreet people and events combine in ways that they cannot know, becoming more than the sum of their parts.

Entanglement is about the ripple effects interactions create. It was inspired by Katy’s interest in quantum entanglement (a physical phenomenon which occurs when pairs or groups interact in ways such that the state of each can no longer be described independently of the other(s), even when separated by a large distance). She talked of meeting her husband when she was sixteen years old and discovering that they lived a few hundred yards apart. They must have met before – at playgroups, schools or social events – but weren’t aware. She was propelled to write her story by her husband’s illness which created a sudden awareness of mortality, something always there but not noticed.

Katy asked Sam if his exposure to life changing moments in his work as an oncologist had been a catalyst for Histories.

Sam quipped that his children tease him about being obsessed by death. He mentioned a junior doctor who asked a registrar how he coped with the inevitable deaths. The answer was that at least in oncology the doctor cannot mess up, patients are going to die anyway. Although appearing flippant, this is a reminder that as a society death is regarded as remote, its possibility denied, yet all medicine is an encounter with death. In Histories the characters are facing mortality, theirs or those they know. Fiction offers a way of presenting such truths. Sam reminded us that we live in a post enlightened world where an oncologist can request massively expensive tests yet struggles to find funds to provide oral hydration.

Katy mentioned Joanna Cannon’s latest book, Three Things About Elsie, and how it explores attitudes to people’s changing abilities. She mentioned a blog post Dr Cannon had written about how to talk to a patient suffering a terminal illness (do read this). Histories brings out what being a good doctor means, and the uncertainty that always exists.

The authors were asked if they thought that, in the last few years, there had been an increased interest in both the positives and negatives of healthcare.

Katy talked of the expectation of infallibility and the constrictions caused by the threat of litigation, how this affects what doctors can say to patients. She offered an analogy with motherhood. There is a desire to be a perfect mother, yet all that any mother can hope for is to be good enough. Perhaps society needs to accept good enough doctors.

Sam mentioned that we live in a world that is now far less trusting of authority – understandably. He asked how we square this with providers of healthcare when doctors face crisis at every moment.

Katy talked of the care her husband received, which was not always as it should have been. Yet she recognised that doctors are human and working within the constraints of a far from perfect system. She felt it important that we differentiate before ascribing blame.

Both Sam and Katy read again from their books before talk moved on to a discussion of the use of  language, and empathy.

Katy commented that Histories has dexterous language and asked if this could enable or disable the practice of medicine.

Sam talked of providing compassionate care and what this means, that it should not just be a task on a tick list. Language is the currency humans use and there are ethical as well as technical arguments for certain words, for example madness. He talked of culpability, which is explored in Entanglement, what happens to others as a result of our actions but of which we remain unaware. Kindness is a power.

Katy talked of how kindness shapes those around. For some who show care it becomes their prism – they define themselves by other’s outcomes as a result of their acts of kindness.

When questions were invited from the audience one lady told of her experience of a rare illness being diagnosed because an expert happened to be to hand. She wished to stress the importance of everyone bringing their best to their job. She felt that doctors should be more truthful about what they know and can do.

A question was then asked about media representations.

Sam replied that to get away from the false and sentimental it was necessary to be gritty in his writing, to present the internal troubles of his characters. Doctors cannot know exactly how others feel but can understand fear and pain. He chairs a clinical ethics committee and most discussions are not around great moral dilemmas but much more day to day concerns – how much should be told and shared, how to be with patients. It can be tricky arriving at a reasonable stance.

Sam referenced Seamus Heaney’s essay in which he differentiated between craft and technique in writing: craft is the skill of making, it wins competitions, it can be deployed without reference to feelings or the self; technique defines a stance toward life, a definition of a writers own reality.

And with that the discussion was drawn to a close. The audience were rapturous in their reactions to the discussion and eager to talk to both authors. I managed to catch a few words with Sam when I asked him to sign my copy of his book. When I looked for Katy she was surrounded, deep in conversation, and I was by now out of time. I did manage to introduce myself to Ann Bissell who was representing The Borough Press. It is always lovely to put faces to names I follow on line.

This was another excellent author evening organised by Toppings. If in Bath do check out this fabulous independent bookshop.


Histories is published by riverrun (click on the cover above to read my review)

Entanglement is published by The Borough Press

Book Review: Black Sugar

Black Sugar, by Miguel Bonnefoy (translated by Emily Boyce), is a story of pirates, buried treasure and rum. Set in the forests of Venezuela it charts the country’s development through the twentieth century alongside that of residents of a remote sugar plantation. The elegant, often humorous prose is fable like. There is desire, intrigue, greed and the unstoppable rhythms of life.

The story opens with a shipwreck. Marooned inland, surrounded by swampy forest, Captain Henry Morgan is dying atop his lifetime’s hoard of treasure. As the weeks go by his marooned ship and valuable supplies rot, or are consumed by the land and his hungry crew. There follows a storm, a mutiny, and the captain and his treasure disappear.

Three centuries later the land has been drained and cultivated. A village has been built, the tale of an English pirate and his lost hoard become legend. On the Otero family farm, Ezequiel and his wife Candelaria live modestly with their late born daughter, Serena. The child has developed an interest in botany, observing her surroundings whilst dreaming of new horizons.

Their quiet life is enlivened by the arrival of a stranger. Severo Bracamonte, a young man in his twenties, has purchased documents from a travelling merchant purporting to reveal the location of the English captain’s buried treasure. He asks for permission to stay on the farm while he conducts a meticulous and methodical search. In exchange he offers a share of the booty he is convinced he will find.

Serena is unimpressed by this slight, pale faced man. As the weeks go by with no success she becomes annoyed at her parents’ tolerance of Severo’s continued presence. All this changes when he finally brings back an artifact. Serena’s reaction causes him to rethink his ambitions.

With Severo’s help the farm grows in size and wealth. He branches out, creating a mill and distillery. Serena works alongside him, keeping the farm books but yearning for a child. The arrival of another stranger, an Andalusian treasure seeker, changes their prospects once again.

Treasure comes in many forms, what use it is put to determining its value. Each of the characters achieves, but not necessarily what they thought they desired. Greed is shown to be a disease, wealth an entanglement. This is a deft and gratifying evocation of the cycle of life in an ever evolving land.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Gallic Books.

Book Review: The Future Can’t Wait

The Future Can’t Wait, by Angelena Boden, is a story about a mother who cannot bring herself to grant her grown-up daughter independence. When the young woman, having completed her university finals, decides to cut contact with her family and move away, the mother falls apart. Her life, it seems, had been entirely predicated on ensuring her child developed into the person the mother desired as a friend and companion.

The story opens a few weeks before the daughter’s final exams. Rani is an intelligent young woman studying astro-physics and expected to achieve a first. Against her much older brother’s advice – Adam is now a doctor practicing in America – she attended her local university and continued to live in the family home under her mother’s watchful eye. Rani is of mixed race, her Iranian father having left to return to his homeland when she was young. Her British mother, Kendra, remarried David who was a highly regarded if somewhat eccentric professor. David is now retired, pursuing hobbies in his garden workshops. He has always appeared to get on well with his step-children.

When Rani starts to rebel against the many restrictions her mother has imposed, Kendra puts it down to the pressure of upcoming exams. Having been berated by her mother in the past for wearing dresses deemed unsuitable as too revealing, Rani decides to purchase loose fitting clothes and wear a headscarf. Unbeknown to her mother she is a member of the Persian Society at university where she is learning more about her heritage and has made new friends. Her mother firmly believes Rani has no interest in religion or politics and struggles to accept a side to her daughter she has not approved.

Kendra teaches GCSE psychology and has a particular interest in the development of the teenage brain. She offers her friend, Sheila, sensible advice in dealing with her children but cannot seem to accept such wisdom herself. When Rani moves to London to take up an internship the young woman ensures that her family do not have her new address. A few weeks later she deletes her email account. Unable to contact her daughter, Kendra descends into a state similar to grief. When Rani sends a letter informing her family that she is fine, doing what she wants with her life but will no longer keep in touch, Kendra becomes further unhinged.

David and Adam advise Kendra to grant Rani the time and space she needs, assuring the frantic mother that her daughter will return when she is ready. Kendra cannot accept this. She reads horoscopes, contacts psychics, purchases tarot cards, and phones premium phone lines that promise help in finding missing persons. She runs up debts in her quest to find a reason for her daughter’s defection other than her own dominating behaviour.

David bears the brunt of his wife’s spiral into cognitive dissonance and addiction. In losing control of her daughter she also loses control of herself. She has the support of David, Sheila and Adam but resents the truths they tell her. Sheila cannot understand why the previously sensible Kendra has become so obsessed by charlatans and woo woo practitioners:

“What do you want them to do? Tell you where Rani is so you can drag her home by the hair?”

David is upset at the large amounts of money Kendra is wasting, unable to comprehend how she can believe these people can help when it is her behaviour that drove Rani away:

“I’ve watched how you’ve over involved yourself in her life. Telling her what to wear, organising her study times even at university, vetting her friends.”

The loving mother who coddled and smothered her daughter now starts to neglect her other child. Adam is making his own enquiries into his sister’s possible whereabouts but questions how much he can share with his mother who has become increasingly unstable. Kendra risks her job with her behaviour and turns to a stranger for comfort (why does she comply when a restaurant he takes her to demands that she hand over her phone?). Even when David becomes ill she berates him for not doing more to act in a way he has never done because now this would suit her.

In a country-wide climate of growing fear over terrorism Kendra is concerned that her daughter may have become radicalised. When the police suggest the same she rages against the accusation. Despite being desperate to find her daughter she ignores a photograph that could be of Rani and therefore offer a potential lead – she is concerned that the police are making racist assumptions. When Sheila suggests that she turn to social media to see if Rani’s friend network can help, Kendra rejects this sensible suggestion as she does not consider it to be her thing. When a couple of Rani’s friends approach Kendra in town she frightens them away with her erratic behaviour.

I read this book wanting to shake some sense into Kendra. We do not own our children and a mother’s job is to prepare their offspring for survival away from the nest. Kendra’s idea of love appeared to be focused on being loved herself.

The study of addiction, grief and denial were interesting facets in what is an intense and emotional tale. The synopsis of the book describes it as a ‘gripping story of a mother’s love for her daughter’ and in reviewing it I recognise how harsh I have been. As a mother I cannot imagine the pain of having one of my children sever all contact. Kendra’s story may well resonate with those whose children are more like rebellious Rani than the ever supportive Adam. I did wonder at the ongoing relationship Kendra would have with Adam’s partner given her apparent need to influence offspring’s behaviour.

My lack of sympathy doubtless stems from my own parental relationships – we bring to each book we read our personal experiences. This is a powerfully written and engaging story that could feed much interesting discussion. I applaud the author’s ability to generate strong feelings in her readers.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Urbane.

Q&A with World Editions

Today I am delighted to welcome Judith Uyterlinde, publishing director at World Editions, an independent publisher set up to bring international literature to a global readership. This year World Editions is bringing the Netherlands’ Boekenweek (Book Week) to the UK by promoting three prize winning Dutch authors they have had translated into English. If you click on the covers below you may read my reviews of these books.

Judith has answered some question I put to her about World Editions. I hope that you enjoy finding out more about this publishing house.


Can you tell me a little about World Editions and why it was set up?

World Editions publishes and promotes high quality literary titles from all over the world in translation into English. We believe there are a lot of treasures to discover for English language readers. There are so many great books out there that haven’t been translated into English yet!

You publish books from around the world. With such a wide remit how do you select the titles you wish to acquire?

One has to read a lot and trust one’s taste. I believe I have a nose for good literature. And of course you need the help and advice of other people too. We have a broad network of agents and publishers, translators and authors all over the world. We visit book fairs in London, Paris, Frankfurt and other places all over the world, to find the most beautiful books to translate into English.

What is the most rewarding aspect of independent publishing, and the most challenging?

The most rewarding aspect is getting to know the most wonderful people and ideas. The most challenging is making sure that the books reach the wide readership they deserve.

Is your experience of marketing what you expected when you started out – how do you connect with booksellers and readers?

The books and the authors need to be visible: in the bookshops, at festivals, on (social) media, everywhere. We are a very young Publishing House – we only just got started with a brand new team in the UK and the USA, so there still is a lot of work to do!

There are a good number of small publishers out there publishing some great works. Do you consider yourself different and, if so, how?

We focus on translated books and we all read them ourselves. Coming from a small, international oriented country, the Netherlands, with a strong tradition in traveling, trading and translating, we have the advantage of reading many languages. Within our team we read French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Polish and English. And on top of that all of us have a lot of publishing experience from working for big international literary houses in both Europe and the USA before.

Latest trend or totally original – what sells?

Selling books is like winning a war – it’s only with hindsight that you can tell who the winner is. But you need to keep trusting that gut feeling and convince others of it!

Ebook or hard copy – what do your buyers want?

Hard copies are still most popular but E-books have their merit too in international publishing.

Do you consider World Editions to be niche or mainstream?

We are specialised in the sense that there are not many Publishing Houses which focus on international literature and translations as intensively as we do. But our ambitions and the quality of our books do not differ from those of the major literary houses.

When working with your authors are you collaborative or dictatorial?

Working together with the authors is one of the things I love most about publishing. There is no use or fun in being dictatorial.

Plans for the future?

To keep on publishing the best books from all over the world! To contribute to an intercultural dialogue. If books can change our view of the world, they can also change the world. Is that enough of an ambition?


Visit the World Editions website here.

You may follow them on Twitter: @WorldEdBooks


Book Review: Rainbow People

This review was written for and first published by Bookmunch.

Rainbow People is the third and final book in the late author’s Metamorphosis Trilogy. The title alludes to the term ‘rainbow children’, described in the introduction as:

“a species of children who are different enough to make them distinct from normality by virtue of the intensity of their curiosity for how things work, or should work, in the world around them, combined with a gentleness and even ‘sweetness’ of disposition to others.”

The story explores reactions to the recent migration of refugees from the Middle East to Europe as seen through the eyes of a man, Richard, a woman, Jenny, and a child, Sophie or Sophocles, who observe and discuss the crisis. The narrative structure is detached in style. Conversations are recounted, written down as he said/she said, along with the thoughts of those conversing – their remembrances of previous discussions.

Sparse background details are provided but these are fluid – the child, for example, is at times a boy and then a girl. An older man, Cyril, who is making a film on a beach, could be an acquaintance or Richard’s father. These details are unimportant in the message being relayed.

The first part of the tale is set on the Mediterranean coast near the border between Greece and Macedonia. The man, woman and child are walking towards a film crew. A group of actors are on the beach playing the part of refugees. The child takes off into the sea and is rescued, the performance filmed. The personal reactions of the observers are detailed alongside conversations about the crisis unfolding nearby.

“it may seem customary for people in trouble to be helped […] people who have been categorised as fugitives suddenly become those heading over a rainbow to a new existence – to one that is of a new nature – one which is reached by a recognition that sunlight and raindrops need not be opposites, but can together make something beautiful and the same.”

The reasons for human migration are discussed along with speculation on the preparations made by the migrants, their chances of success and acceptance by those already living in Europe.

The actors have not been fed that they may understand hunger, yet this is regarded as unnecessary, ridiculous, as are many actions surrounding the refugees.

“Even now, we seem to have learnt something of how ridiculous war is. But we are imbued with the idea that something should be done rapidly about a situation in which we find ourselves. And so we bomb people who we think must be causing the troubles”

There is talk of beauty, art and trust, of a need for tenderness as embodied in the actors’ reactions to the child.

The setting shifts to England where the man and woman plan a visit to the camp near Calais known as The Jungle. Richard muses that in a jungle the creatures have found ways to coexist, some living high up in the trees, some at ground level, all finding shelter. Their adaptation to the environment is achieved through instinct, without such planning and discussions as people in positions of power demand.

“the world’s large-scale problems, which were in almost everyone’s interests to solve, were brought to nothing by the strange obsession of humans that all this had to be explicable and validated by words”

Once in The Jungle, the trio observe the packed cars and vans in a traffic jam, all hoping to get to England. The child asks about sex and why her parents wanted children. Her mother answers:

“We wanted to change the world. And we got you.”

The child observes the people in the vehicles looking out their windows and wants to help.

“’What’s wrong with looking out of windows?’ Jenny said, ‘That’s all we do anyway.’ The child said, ‘You mean our eyes are windows.’ Richard said, ‘Or mirrors.’ The child said, ‘I don’t even know what I look like. ‘Jenny said, ‘No. Other people do.’”

As a story I found this a strange little tale although it does offer a window into the reasons behind the refugee crisis and the foolish behaviour of governments.

The book concludes with a postscript, by Shiva Rahbaran, in which she writes of meeting the author and their subsequent discussions. She asks:

“Can humans learn from their mistakes, and evolve into higher beings that can ‘become a rope over the Abyss […] a bridge and not a goal’ and thus save themselves from extinction? This question has been at the heart of Nicholas Mosley’s literary experiment for the past twenty-five years.”

Any Cop?: At around eighty pages in length this is a short work that offers much to consider. The philosophical debates were of interest although the author took as a given the need to save mankind as a species, despite his environmental negligence. In a book seeking to create bridges, to hope that those who come after will evolve into something better, perhaps this is fitting.


Jackie Law

Book Review: The Darkness that Divides Us

The Darkness that Divides Us, by Renate Dorrestein (translated by Hester Velmans), is a story of lives blighted by secrets surrounding a murder. Told from the points of view of the children most affected, it highlights the misunderstandings and frustrations that arise when adults charged with caring for young people forget that children speak a different language to them.

The book is set in and around a new housing estate in the Netherlands, a prototype that the government promised would allow families to grow amongst like minded people, detached from the problems and fears of inner city living. Young couples moved into these sterile and remote dwellings, and soon began procreating. As fathers had to travel longer distances to work, the mothers would get together to air their grievances. Thus their children got to know each other from the cradle.

Close to these new homes is an old rectory. Here lives Lucy, her bohemian mother and their two lodgers, Ludo and Duco. Lucy’s mother illustrates children’s story books. She reads Tarot cards for the other mothers. She doesn’t fuss if clothes are dirty or juice is spilt. The children love to visit her house and Lucy, always ready to suggest a daring and imaginative game, becomes the de facto leader of the preschool group.

When a new boy, Thomas, moves into a house on the estate Lucy chooses him as her special friend, deciding that they will become engaged. A party is held at her house to celebrate the occasion which turns inexplicably grim when Lucy’s mother discovers Thomas’s origins. She decides that her family can no longer live in the rectory, that they must move far from these people. Appalled, Lucy decides to run away.

On a stormy night Lucy sneaks out of the house, overhearing an argument between her mother and their two lodgers as she leaves. The next morning Thomas’s father is found dead.

The children are six years old and have only just started school. Their escapades and reasoning appear precocious, a reminder that adults struggle to empathise with young people at their level. Parents will think they know best and try to protect. Children observe the fickleness of adult friendships, the interesting facts they refuse to share, how their opinions are swayed by gossip and speculation.

Events of that stormy night change Lucy forever. The other children are frustrated by her sudden restraint and try to force her to react by tormenting her, desiring the return of their exuberant leader. Unbeknownst to them Lucy has been tasked with keeping a dark secret that over time she locks away in the recesses of her mind. She accepts years of vicious bullying believing it is her due.

Lucy’s mother goes to prison and her child is cared for by Ludo and Duco. The men are largely unaware of the torments Lucy suffers at the behest of her erstwhile friends. When her mother is released it becomes clear that their situation has become untenable. The four decide to move away.

The first part of the book is told from the point of view of one of the bullies, a child living in a supposedly ideal family unit. The second part, set on Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, is narrated by Lucy. Here she must learn a new language and find a way to fit in with local children raised on the remote island. Although still only twelve years old, the damage caused by her childhood reverberates.

Ludo and Duco continue to offer Lucy their unconditional if somewhat gauche support. Lucy and her mother struggle to cope with what the other has become. Lucy is trying to move forwards, unsure of the truth of her memories from the pivotal night, unwilling to think too deeply about what happened and her role in events.

“The story that lay pressed between the covers of our mutual silence had best remain what it was; a closed book.”

The damage caused by her mother’s attempts to protect Lucy lead to her dealing with the island children’s taunts in a shocking way. She is terrified of once again becoming the victim of unrelenting bullying. She longs for the company of younger children who have not yet learned to torture those they perceive as not fitting in.

By the denouement Lucy has turned eighteen and is facing her future. Out in the world, away from the support of Ludo and Duco, she is forced to confront the way she has allowed the secrets of her past to shape how she thinks. The adults who cared for her may have had her best interests at heart but each person, child and adult, were affected in ways the others proved unable to comprehend.

This tale is in many ways chilling, not least because of the uncomfortable truths it lays bare. As adults it is too easy to think we know better than the children we interact with. We cannot control the events they will remember, the conversations and silences they will translate in unforeseen ways. The voices of the narrators are a reminder that, whatever our age, it is only possible to live inside one’s own head, unable to fully appreciate other’s perceptions, feeling at the moment and dwelling on whatever causes pain.

A complex and unusual story that, whilst heart-rending, is never sentimental. It is tense in places, thought provoking and engaging. A recommended read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, World Editions.