Book Review: The Doll Funeral

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The Doll Funeral, by Kate Hamer, is a story of ghosts and the lasting influence of family and upbringing. Its protagonist is Ruby who is informed by her parents on her thirteenth birthday that they adopted her when she was just a few months old. Ruby is ecstatic at this news – suddenly she has hope. If she can find her birth parents she may escape the vicious physical abuse regularly inflicted on her by Mick, the man she believed was her dad.

For as long as she can remember Ruby has seen shadow people, some only once but others come and go. Living in the Forest of Dean she has grown up surrounded by trees and finds comfort in their protection. She decides to try to summon her birth parents by copying mystical techniques she remembers from her late grandmother. What follows weaves a poignant tale of a child desperate for love with elements of the supernatural.

Ruby meets Tom who has been abandoned with his teenage siblings by their hippy parents who have travelled to India to find themselves. They live in a huge, dilapidated house where they are expected to survive on food farmed or hunted. With winter approaching these young people are now struggling. They also harbour a terrible secret.

Both Ruby and Tom have been damaged by their forebears. It is not just the direct actions of parents but the lasting impact of their upbringing and the wider prejudices of those who live in the forest that has shaped how Ruby and Tom have been raised. Each generation inflicts their values, beliefs and aspirations on those who come next. Psychological inheritance can be devastating.

The story is bleak, filled with restless ghosts and crippled potential. The fluid construction of the tale makes it easy to read but the unremitting darkness of the subject matter offered little prospect of cheer for any of the characters.

As a parent it is hard to read a book such as this without considering how one’s own children may have been affected by values passed on to them. Ghosts need not take physical form to exert influence.

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

Book Review: The Girl in the Red Coat

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The Girl in the Red Coat, by Kate Hamer, tells the story of Beth and her daughter Carmel who is abducted when she is eight years old by an elderly man claiming he is her estranged grandfather. Beth is recently divorced from Carmel’s father, Paul, who left them for his girlfriend, Lucy. Where Beth is bohemian in dress and behaviour Lucy is chic and conventional. Sometimes Carmel would prefer if her mother were more ordinary. She resents that she feels constantly watched and constrained. Beth is doing her best but still suffers the aftershocks of the failure of her marriage. She seeks comfort from like-minded friends. She has not spoken to her parents in years.

Beth is naturally devastated when her daughter vanishes whilst on a rare day out together. The subsequent chapters told from Beth’s point of view cover the shock of loss, the need to keep searching, and then the painful coming to terms and finding a way to survive.

The chapters told from Carmel’s point of view are disturbing due to the situation in which she finds herself. Lies have been told to keep her from trying to return home. She is confused and unhappy but children have little control when the adults caring for them make decisions. She longs for love but can see no practical escape from the circumstances imposed.

Carmel has a gift which I felt was a weakness in the plot. Whilst I accept that there are happenings in the world than cannot yet be rationally explained this was a struggle to go along with. The attempts to monetise what she could do were plausible, but by making her abilities apparently real my engagement with the tale was weakened.

The writing is polished and I wanted to know the outcome so read on. I found the denouement something of an anti-climax. It was not that it was difficult to believe events could be concluded in this way but rather that it felt abrupt. I was looking for more nuance and depth.

I know that many other readers have adored this book so perhaps my expectations were too high. It is not one that I can recommend.