(A version of this post appeared on my Goodreads a while back, but I’ve tweaked it so it’s practically new)
Louise Beech. You may have heard of her and her books, then again you may not have. If you fall into the former camp then I love you *smoochy smoochy kisses*. If you fall into the latter camp then shame on you. Shame. On. you! But seriously, this post is an appreciation of all things Louisey. Well, her books at any rate. If I haven’t lost you already, and you are still reading this, then quickly pop and boil the kettle, maybe open a bottle of whatever tickles your fancy, settle down and read on and take the wormhole/yellow brick road/glass elevator/stairway to Beechy enlightenment…..
But why I hear you cry? Why should I read this piffle? Well, basically, because I love Louise and her books utterly.
There. That was a short post.
Ha ha fooled you: that should be all I need to write really, but oh no! For I am a waffler. I waffle. Waffling is my wont. I waffle therefore I am. See? Anyhoo, what follows isn’t a comprehensive review of all of Louise’s books, but more of a general appreciation and gushing of love for them. If you have the patience, and are sitting comfortably, we shall begin…..
It all began with Twitter. It is upon this social network that I happened across Orenda Books; the remarkable independent publisher led by the rather magnificent (I’m told as I’ve never met her 😉 – EDIT: I have now met her and I can confirm her magnificence. Phew, that could’ve been awkward), Karen “Super” Sullivan (my superlative. I doubt she wears her underwear over her trousers, but maybe she wears a cape? EDIT: having met her I can confirm that she does not wear a cape. Yeah, I was mildly disappointed too ). She, through her Twitter profile @orendabooks, kept harping on about a book called The Mountain In My Shoe by some person called, yes you guessed it, you clever blog reader you, Louise Beech (her blog can be found here and her Twitter here). Now, I used to be a reading creature of habit; if it ain’t horror I ain’t reading it, but I was just starting to branch out into crime/thriller territory and this one sounded intriguing, billed as a kind of psychological thriller, so I thought, pfft, why not?
“A missing boy. A missing book. A missing husband. A woman who must find them all to find herself. On the night Bernadette finally has the courage to tell her domineering husband that she’s leaving, he doesn’t come home. Neither does Conor, the little boy she’s befriended for the past five years. Also missing is his lifebook, the only thing that holds the answers. With the help of Conor’s foster mum, Bernadette must face her own past, her husband’s secrets and a future she never dared imagine in order to find them all. Exquisitely written and deeply touching, The Mountain in My Shoe is both a gripping psychological thriller and a powerful and emotive examination of the meaning of family … and just how far we’re willing to go for the people we love.”
Oh my gibbering goodness, thank Freddie Mercury that I did! I read TMIMS from cover to cover almost in a single sitting (I probably got up to have a wee wee at some point; it’s all so hazy now). I adored Louise’s natural style of writing; something about it spoke to me! Not in that I related to the story in any way, but in that it completely drew me in and transported me to Hull and into the world of Bernadette and Conor. This was my world for the 300 or so pages of the book. I rooted for Bernadette, wanted to punch her overbearing and controlling husband in the face, and almost went out and bought a ticket to Hull to help to search for Conor (Ok, maybe not the last bit, but it was close. – I had got to the ticket hall). Louise uses her own personal childhood experiences of being in foster care to inform her story giving this book an extra grounding in reality; a personal touch that something all three of her books to date employ. So, basically, what I’m saying here is is that I loved this book and thought, what else has this lady written then? Fortunately for me, and everyone else, there was more….
From Mountain I moved on to Maria In The Moon, her latest release to date
“Long ago my beloved Nanny Eve chose my name. Then one day she stopped calling me it. I try now to remember why, but I just can’t.’
Thirty-one-year-old Catherine Hope has a great memory. But she can’t remember everything. She can’t remember her ninth year. She can’t remember when her insomnia started. And she can’t remember why everyone stopped calling her Catherine-Maria. With a promiscuous past, and licking her wounds after a painful breakup, Catherine wonders why she resists anything approaching real love. But when she loses her home to the deluge of 2007 and volunteers at Flood Crisis, a devastating memory emerges … and changes everything. Dark, poignant and deeply moving, Maria in the Moon is an examination of the nature of memory and truth, and the defences we build to protect ourselves, when we can no longer hide…”
MITM tells the story of a young woman named Catherine Maria who has lost the memories from a whole year of her life; she cannot remember her 9th year. Her family refuse to open up about it, and though the reasons for her memory loss are reasonably obvious, the impact of her self discovery is no less dramatic for it. MITM is told upon the backdrop of the Hull floods of 2007, with Catherine volunteering at a flood crisis helpline. This is something that had personally affected Louise and her family; their house was severely flooded during that time. This experience, as well as that of working with the Samaritans, once again helps to ground this story in reality and is another example of how this draws you into her world. To say more about this wonderful book would be to spoil the delight, but safe to say that Catherine rediscovers her memories and discovers more besides along the way – both for good and bad. It isn’t an easy read at times, but there are some laugh out loud moment courtesy of her step mother that helps to ease the tension.
Finally I read How To Be Brave. This was actually her first book to be published, but for some reason I thought it was a kind of autobiography and overlooked it for a while. When I actually took the time to read the blurb properly I discovered that it was a novel, though with a semi-autobiographical inspiration (but then so have all of her others books, but this one is more overtly so, imo).
Da blurb…for the final time:
“All the stories died that morning … until we found the one we’d always known.
When nine-year-old Rose is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, Natalie must use her imagination to keep her daughter alive. They begin dreaming about and seeing a man in a brown suit who feels hauntingly familiar, a man who has something for them. Through the magic of storytelling, Natalie and Rose are transported to the Atlantic Ocean in 1943, to a lifeboat, where an ancestor survived for fifty days before being rescued. Poignant, beautifully written and tenderly told, How To Be Brave weaves together the contemporary story of a mother battling to save her child’s life with an extraordinary true account of bravery and a fight for survival in the Second World War. A simply unforgettable debut that celebrates the power of words, the redemptive energy of a mother’s love … and what it really means to be brave.”
One day, and without warning, Natalie’s 9 year old daughter Rose collapses. She is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (as was Louise’s real life daughter), and their lives will never be the same again. With her husband away in Afghanistan, she must face this change alone, or so she thinks. In order to help Rose to take her insulin, a task proving very difficult as Rose struggles to adapt to her illness, she tells her the story of her grandfather Colin, who was adrift at sea for 50 days in a small boat after his ship was torpedoed during WW2. Natalie, Rose and Colin’s stories intertwine throughout the novel as Natalie uses her grandfather’s diary (and, perhaps, Colin himself?), to help tell her story and rebond with her daughter. Remarkably, the story of Colin’s 50 day ordeal is a true one that actually happened to Louise’s real grandfather, also named Colin (this story is wonderfully, honestly and poignantly told by his shipmate Kenneth Cooke in Man On A Raft – read it!). Once again Louise uses her real life experiences to bring her stories to a real and vivid life. This book is one of only a few that has brought a tear to my eye at the end. I actually almost whooped in the cafe I was reading in during one particular event! For reals.
So, there you have it, my journey of discovery to the wonder and joy that is Louise Beech. Unbelievably it took years for Louise to finally become a published author. You can read about her journey here. It beggars belief that no-one would publish these books, and there is hardly a day that goes by that I don’t thank Karen Sullivan for having the vision to take her on (well, there are a few days where I don’t think about it, but then I think extra hard about it to make up for them). I have discovered many authors in the past year to eighteen months that I have begun to read more and have fallen in love with: Yrsa Sigurðardottir; Lilja Sigurðardottir; Will Dean; Ragnar Jónasson; Matt Wesolowski; John Marrs; Thomas Enger; Joe Hill, but few have caught my attention and captured my heart as much as Louise.
Her next book will be The Lion Tamer Who Lost (EDIT: you can read my review here), followed by her 5th novel Star Girl. She is currently slaving away on her 6th, currently titled “We Are Our Own Ghosts”.
And guess what? I. CAN’T. BLOODY. WAIT!