It’s lovely to read a book that offers up something fresh and Mary Paulson Ellis resoundingly met that brief for me with this tale that weaves a mystery from the past with family secrets. I got the feeling that many families although not having the exact same story, there are many that have similar skeletons lurking in cupboards which share some of the same elements.
Somehow she’d always known that she would end like this. In a small square room, in a small square flat. In a small square box, perhaps. Cardboard, with a sticker on the outside. And a name…
Margaret Penny returns to Edinburgh after some thirty years away and returns to her mother’s home. She is not given a warm welcome, or even a proper bed but given that she feels she has no choice except to leave London, she has to take the scant comfort on offer
Margaret’s mother is part of a circle of women who attend funerals for those who have no-one else. This idea in itself can’t help but warm your heart although I may prefer to go it alone than to have some sour-hearted old woman turning up because she’s on a rota! Through this circle Margaret gets a temporary job locating family for those who are deceased, an odd job, but one that will ultimately save the council money as someone has to pay for the funeral.
Margaret’s first job is to locate a name for an elderly woman who died alone in a flat. In the cold flat with whisky pooling on the floor are a few belongings, including a beautiful green dress. With little in the way of paperwork Margaret embarks on a treasure hunt to find a name, and family for the deceased.
I loved the way this story was constructed. The story flips backwards and forwards with dates that range from 1930s to the present day, this is historical story-telling at its best; those small details so beautifully drawn, delighted me. Possessions are important to the Walker family and the handling of these often insignificant objects pervades their storyline. The descriptions of war-time London were outstanding and easily transported me to the era and the magical gift of an orange, its peel being one of the objects which links the episodes within this complex tale.
The characters were brilliantly drawn, three-dimensional with quirks that differentiate them easily but best of all we see many determined women who do not dwell on the past, or rail against the present, no, they are forever picking themselves up and forging onwards.
If you want a book to savour, one that is full of imagery despite being so dark that it is no wonder that the Walker family treasured their few flashes of colour with their oranges and jade green dresses, then you will enjoy this read. That said, because of the many themes along with the moving backwards and forwards in time, further complicated by the gaps in the timeline left to be filled by the reader’s imagination, it is a book to read when you can concentrate. I was lucky enough to read this in one hit and so got swept along in the storyline from London to snowy Edinburgh and from one claustrophobic household to another, and I loved every minute of it.
First Published UK: 10 March 2016
No. of Pages: 448
Genre: Historical Fiction
Amazon US (currently unavailable)