The Mountain in my Shoe, by Louise Beech, tells the story of Conor Jordan, a ten year old boy from Hull who has been in multiple care homes throughout his short life and who has now gone missing. Also missing is his Life Book, a work in progress containing details of his fragmented childhood, created as a substitute for the memories parents share with their children. The book had been taken home by Bernadette, a young woman who volunteered to be Conor’s friend and who he has grown to trust. She cannot understand where the book has gone as only she and her husband, Richard, have been in their flat where it was hidden. Richard is a man who adheres to a strict routine but this evening he hasn’t come home from work. It seems that he too may be missing.
Bernadette is more concerned about Conor than Richard. She is angry with her controlling husband for choosing this night to disappear. She had finally plucked up the courage to tell him that she was leaving their marriage, had packed her bags and tidied their flat in readiness for her departure. It was only when she went to put the Life Book in her case that she realised it had gone.
Bernadette doesn’t have many friends. Richard discouraged her from going out other than to see to his needs. Her voluntary work has been her carefully guarded secret. She confided in Conor’s foster carer, Anne, that she was unhappy in her marriage. Now, during a fraught evening spent briefing the police and then searching for the missing boy, she opens up about her lonely personal life and plans for change.
Excerpts from the Life Book give details of Conor’s past. It makes for heartbreaking reading. The boy has been shunted from pillar to post through no fault of his own. His few years with Anne have been the most stable he has experienced. He is teased in school for his lack of family, and dreams of spending more time with his troubled birth mother. He wants to know who his father is. The only person he can open up to fully is his best friend, Sophie. Sophie knows how to keep secrets and does not withhold information from him as adults do.
The writing evokes the fear and confusion of a situation all parents dread, that their child should fail to come home from school. As darkness falls all are trying their best to stay positive. Richard’s whereabouts are still unknown but Bernadette cannot bring herself to care.
The writing is gentle yet delves deep into complex family dynamics. In seeing events recounted through the eyes of adults and then a child the reader is reminded that young people see both more and less than they are often credited with. Their priorities differ but they can detect strained atmospheres better than many of their elders. They struggle at times to understand that circumstances do not revolve around them. Many adults live in denial, constructing their own truths based on the life they desire. Each is the centre of their own personal universe.
The plot threads spiral out and are then woven back in to provide a tapestry of hurts never quite healed. In places I could not hold back the tears yet the strength found by the characters to move forward make this an uplifting read.
Conor is a convincing sometimes indecorous but nevertheless likeable creation. He may be troublesome in school, display occasional aggression, but it is hard not to be moved by his predicament. Books such as this can help generate empathy for the many Conors in the real world.
I enjoyed this book for its compassion and perception. It is a beautiful, heartfelt read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher.
This review is a stop on The Mountain in my Shoe Blog Tour. Do check out the other blogs taking part, detailed below.
The Mountain in my Shoe is published by Orenda Books and is available to buy now.