The Eliza Doll, by Tracey Scott-Townsend, narrates the life story of Ellie who, when we first meet her, has sold her home and is travelling around the country in a campervan making handmade dolls for craft fairs. This peripatetic way of life is obviously her choice yet she appears anxious and disturbed. She is visited on the road by her daughter, Eliza, who has encouraged her to follow her dreams. Doing so has not assuaged Ellie’s guilt at acting against the wishes of Rosie, another of her children.
The story jumps around in time which is sometimes a challenge to keep track of. Eliza’s birth is narrated and the reader learns she was not a wanted child. Ellie already had two children and was struggling to cope. The story goes back to when she met their father.
Ellie and Jonah were in their first year at university when she fell pregnant just a few months into their relationship. Jonah was an aspiring musician waiting for the record deal he was convinced he would soon acquire. Following the birth of their first child they both dropped out of university and moved into an arts inspired commune. The responsibilities of parenthood came between them as did lifestyle choices they made. Ellie felt that her future had been stolen from her. Jonah resented that she would not offer him her unequivical support.
The timeline moves to when Ellie and Jonah are older. They are in Iceland to visit an adult Eliza, taking a tour that she has planned for them. Ellie now appears weak and needy. She does not seem happy to be there.
There is a large cast of characters to get to know alongside keeping track of when what is being described is taking place. The story is of a life lived. There are regrets but also achievements. Ellie has a difficult relationship with her parents and sister. Always, she does the best she can manage. The challenges and loneliness of motherhood, the guilt of not always coping, are well evoked. No parent is perfect, and neither are children.
Ellie and Jonah’s family grow up, some to travel and some to have children of their own. This expanded cast and their associated relations and friends had me checking back to work out who was who. The denouement felt a little too neat.
Having said that I did enjoy this story, if enjoyment is the right term for such a poignant, heartfelt tale. The quality of the writing makes up for any confusion caused by its fragmented construction.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Wild Pressed Books.