This review was written for and first published by Bookmunch.
Having enjoyed Kit de Waal’s debut, My Name Is Leon, I was eager to read whatever she wrote next. Thus I was a little perturbed to discover that it was to be a love story – such tales tend to annoy me. I needn’t have worried. The Trick to Time is indeed about love but it explores the many hurts such fierce emotion generates, and how one may find a way to live with the damage inflicted.
The story opens in a coastal town in the South of England. The protagonist, Mona, is watching the sun rise from the window of her third floor flat when she notices a man doing the same across the street. They acknowledge each other, “like two characters in an opera”, before turning away to start their days.
Mona is approaching her sixtieth birthday. She lives alone, spending much of her time making high quality, collectible dolls that she sells in her toyshop and online. A local carpenter makes each body from wood which Mona then paints and dresses in bespoke clothes she designs and creates. The hair is human, sourced from a local hairdresser. Mona names each doll, talking to them as she works and chiding herself for such behaviour.
As well as making and selling dolls, Mona offers a service to women referred by a grief counsellor. There is a strong suggestion that she has experienced significant loss herself, the details of which are gradually revealed.
The tale is told across three points in time: Mona’s childhood in Kilmore, County Wexford, where she was raised by her father from the age of eight following the death of her mother; as a young woman working in a factory in Birmingham where she lived with other Irish in a boarding house before meeting the man she married; the contemporary setting as she contemplates loneliness and aging.
As a child Mona enjoys a carefree if somewhat solitary existence. When she reaches her teens she begins to yearn for more than the small Irish town can offer. Like many of her peers, she plots her escape.
Birmingham in the 1970s offers Mona the possibility of the life she has long dreamed off, until tragedy snatches it away.
In the present day, while out in town with a friend, Mona encounters the stranger she acknowledged from her window. Karl is a dapper dresser with impeccable manners and knowledge of fine living. He and Mona go on several dates, sharing elements of their histories yet not opening up about the most significant aspects of their lives. Karl’s attention leads Mona to ponder if she could love again.
If this were all I had been told about the book I would have had little interest in reading it. Love affairs, dolls, and an unfolding tragedy would not appeal. What makes it worth reading are the aspects and behaviours explored around these threads.
It is rare for any book to make me laugh out loud as I did reading a scene set in a hotel bedroom involving a sash window. It is even rarer for a book to make me cry which I found myself doing during the penultimate scene. I had guessed early on what may be regarded as a twist but this did nothing to detract from the depth in the portrayal. Throughout I found myself pausing to savour the evocative writing and to consider the reactions and development of the many characters. All earn their place.
Any Cop?: The pace, structure and flow of the prose are skilfully balanced making this an easy book to read. The substance is more challenging, dealing as it does with grief. This is a tale of survival, piercing in its honesty, intense yet humane. It leaves echoes beyond the final page.