This is a book that cries out to be read, a world that cries out for you to enter. Let me offer you some words that I hope might pull you into a book so special that it left me lost for words for a time.
“I am reading reading reading, locked in the stories.
I am a wicked daughter, a drunken witch, a terrible scientist, a king with a severed hand, a resentful angel, a statue of a golden prince, the roaring wind, an uninspired alchemist, a fantastic lover who has only one leg, a stage magician with glittery nails, a shivery queen with a box of Turkish sweets, a prostitute wearing poisoned lipstick, a piano player whose hands are too big, a raggedy grey rabbit, a murderer with metal teeth, a spy with an hourglass figure …
I am eighteen years old and my real life is here locked inside these books.
My pretend life is here with my family
I found them quite irresistable.
Step inside and you will find yourself on, a wild island, far from the Scottish coast. It is a world apart, where people live as people in isolated communities have for many centuries. They farm, they fished, and they make things that they might trade with passing travellers.
Those travellers came often, ‘tall men in black coats’ from the mainland, and yet the islanders never left.
“No-one here goes to the main land, and no-one wants to. Our boats aren’t strong enough, we dun know the way, them can’t understand us, we’re fine as we are. We have so many reasons; them stretch as wide as the distance to cross to take us there.”
I wouldn’t want to leave, even though I might be a little scared if I stayed. Jess Richards has created a wonderful world; real, alive, magical and strange.
It is the stories of two young women that bring it to life.
Mary was born into an island family, but her family is shrinking. First her mother was lost to her, and then Barney, her beloved infant brother. She knew he was still there, she heard his voice in the world around her, but she couldn’t see him.
What secrets was her father keeping from her? Had the tall men taken him? Or was he in the mysterious Thrashing House, a building every bit as sinister as its name suggests?
She had to find out.
Morgan was born on the mainland, but her parents ran away from something, and they fled to the island. They built a fortress and they raised their children behind barricades. Morgan, and her younger twin sisters could see out, but they couldn’t get out.
What was her family doing on the island? What might there be outside the barricades?
She had to find out.
And so two stories are told in two voices. They work together and balance each other beautifully.
I wanted to linger. To luxuriate in beautiful prose, as light as air, rich with wonderful images, wrapped around so many intriguing ideas.
But I also wanted to keep turning the pages, I wanted to keep hearing those two wonderful voices, and I wanted to uncover those secrets, answer those questions every bit as much as Mary and Morgan.
I was caught up, completely and utterly.
The stories flowed perfectly. The twist, when it came, was devastating. And the book as whole is quite extraordinary.
There is magic – a child’s toy speaks, an embroidered bird takes flight, a key has a mind of its own – and it illuminates serious themes – pain and healing, the roles women play, the consequences of keeping secrets – so very, very effectively.
You could just read a wonderful inventive story, or you could stop and ponder the many things it says so very eloquently as well.
I can see the influences – Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood are, quite rightly named – but I can also see that Jess Richards has absorbed them and then moved on to create something of her own that is quite unique.
It is an extraordinarily accomplished debut novel, and I am thrilled at the prospect of what she might go on to write in the future.