The novel presents a vivid portrayal of dysfunction as it is handed down through generations, and of the little accidents of life that make us what we are. Questions are raised about what causes dysfunction in a family or an individual and what aggravates it.
Throughout the unfolding story, echoes of tragedy are counterpointed with moments of ecstasy where it seems that everything must inevitably turn out all right.
The story is told from two points of view, that of Jake and that of Mary. We start with Jake in his teenage years and then move backwards and forwards between his narrative and that of Mary, starting when she is a young girl.
For me, one of the most beautiful things in the novel is the depiction of the relationship between Mary and her sister Rachel. But this relationship holds the seeds of the tragedy that unfolds later in the narrative. One of the strengths of the story is the way that its shocking revelations are cleverly and subtly placed within the action.
At heart, this is Jake’s story and the story of his complex family. But there are also some achingly good cameos. Some of the best are: Mr Horrocks and his dog Griffin (we get some great glimpses into his world); Sandy – ‘nice enough, but a bit rough’; and the ultimate fly in the ointment, Gypsy.
Isabel Ashdown’s writing is full of beautiful language and evocative symbolism. We understand the story better through the imagery of birds flying free, moths getting trapped and Icarus being burnt. There is glorious detail in the writing – like the description of the gob-stopper falling out of Jake’s mouth and onto the pavement – which renders it truly memorable.
I was very impressed by the masterful handling of the chronology and the weaving of the two different points of view in the story as it rushes towards its climax.
Reviewed by Helen M Hunt, Bookersatz