Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Doll Funeral – Kate Hamer

Contemporary Fiction 4*s
Contemporary Fiction

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I requested The Doll Funeral because not only is it set in the Forest of Dean, in Gloucestershire, where I grew up, but it also features a thirteen year old girl, named Ruby, in 1983, the year I turned thirteen too – in short the parallels were too similar to not see what The Doll Funeral had to offer.

Ruby finds out she is adopted on the day of her thirteenth birthday up until this time she had no idea. All she learns is that she was a few months old before she was taken in by Barbara and Mick. Living on the very edge of the dense forest, Mick is cruel and bitter following the loss of his daughter at the tender age of three and Barbara is ineffectual against his rages. Ruby is a fairly solitary child, she takes to roaming the forest often accompanied by ‘Shadow’ a young boy who she has seen for as long as she can remember, a boy who never ages. Whether he is real or whether he is a figment of Ruby’s imagination is for you to decide.

Ruby decides to invoke the spirits in the forest to help her find her parents. Part of this is to light fires and chant incantations and of course there is a funeral for a doll. Finding her real parents who will take her away is the only way she can see to escape the ire that she provokes in Mick, especially now her beloved Grandmother has died, she has no refuge at all.

One day she makes friends with an older boy, Tom, and in time visits his home, a house where his parents had decided to live off the land, but they are not there, just his siblings an older sister and a younger brother. Food is often rabbit and vegetables from the land, the money their parents sent regularly at first no longer appearing.

We know who Ruby’s mother is through Anna’s story, set in 1970 and split between life in London and that in the forest. This element of the story was fascinating and spurred me on when the weirdness of Ruby’s story got a little bit too much.

The writing is so evocative, and although I didn’t need too many prompts to picture the house backing onto the deep and dark forest, I think the author did a fantastic job of conjuring up the oppressiveness and remoteness of this area. It also recreated a time not in reality so far in the past, where children were left to their own devices, we certainly were, which went more than some way in explaining why Ruby was able to roam deep into the forest away from any living eyes.

I have made no secret of the fact that I’m not a big fan of ghosts in my reading, or anywhere else for that matter, but there was something incredibly appealing, not least the superb writing, which has made me make an exception to that rule for The Doll Funeral. I’m not going to lie, the things Ruby ‘sees’ form a large part of the book, but, taking into consideration the atmosphere of the forest as described by Kate Hamer, it worked for me. The story revealed is very sad in parts, and the parents of all the children are just too awful for words. Perhaps that’s why Ruby and her first person, present tense narrative stole a small piece of my heart.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Faber & Faber who answered my pleas for a copy of this book ahead of publication in hardback, today, 16 February 2017.

First Published UK: 16 February 2017
Publisher: Faber & Faber
No of Pages:  368
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US


A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

28 thoughts on “The Doll Funeral – Kate Hamer

  1. I am so down-to-earth / a big wimp that ghosts and these kind of things don’t appeal to me but I’m happy and curious that the writing made it work for you 🙂


    1. For me it is more the down to earth part that spoils the entry of ghosts for me so I was amazed that this didn’t cause me to disengage with the story-line. That alone says something about the author’s talent


  2. Hmm….I’m not much of a one for ghost stories, either, Cleo. But this one does sound evocative, and I like the forest setting. There’s definitely something about a forest that makes it just right for this sort of story. Glad you enjoyed it.


    1. I have to admit I really wasn’t too sure I’d enjoy this book because I was aware of the ghostly elements but I’m so glad I decided to give it a try – I think it did underline that for me, in the right hands I can enjoy this, although I think it helped that the protagonist was a young girl. The author really did capture the setting, the way of life which always seemed a little bit behind the times even in the 1980s with its small community and that deep and dark forest as a backdrop.


  3. Oh I love ghost stories! I’ll be watching for this one to come out here. Likely it will be a while yet. Amazon says September. I always do think it’s interesting when children or adults find out they are adopted and have never known. I am adopted and have always known. Just a little observation of mine. How do they keep it a secret?


    1. Oh this should be perfect for you then with ghosts and adoption. I am also fascinated with these types of stories although I’ve always imagined the parents left it too late and so it became a big deal… I would imagine it invariably comes out – my friend was informed by her school friends which must be a particularly cruel way to find out!


    1. Anna’s story in the 1970s was particularly well done which neatly balanced Ruby’s thirteen years later – the setting was incredibly well done which I was extremely pleased about because that’s why I chose to read the book – it does give a different experience when you have a link, I think.


  4. Ruby’s story does sound weird, but the writing must have been good to make you enjoy a story with ghostly elements. Ah, the good old days, when children were allowed to roam free… I’m always glad I was a child back then… 🙂


    1. I was surprised how taken with this book, a good reminder that taking risks sometimes pays off. We moved to the area when I was nine, and the sudden freedom we were allowed was wonderful and I think, taught me such a great deal. Out all day and back for dinner – those were the days!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You have intrigued me but I’ll have to read more reviews before deciding whether to try this one. I hated Girl in Red Coat because of hateful stereotyped American characters but I like ghost stories set in forests.


  6. I am on the fence with this one because I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Girl in the Red Coat. I enjoyed it but the supernatural element didn’t quite sit right with me.


  7. I have only heard wonderful things about this book, even though I have only read a few reviews until now. Yours was certainly made special by the fact that you shared a lived location with Ruby. I can’t imagine what it must mean to look back to the place where you grow up from a bookish perspective. I live in an industrial, working-class town I can’t wait to leave behind now. But what about when I turn 40?


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