At first glance I thought that ‘The Girl in the Read Coast’ looked like a crime novel, but when I looked more closely I found that it was rather more than that: a story of a mother and a daughter, and of the practical and emotional consequences of the crime that separates them.
Carmel is eight years-old; she is bright, sensitive, a little bit dreamy, a little other-worldly even, and she is very close to her mother.
Now every mother is thinks her daughter is special, and Beth is no different; what is different is that there really might be something – a special gift – that sets Carmel apart.
All of this becomes clear as the narrative moves backwards and forwards between them. Their two voices were distinctive, they were engaging, and they both rang true. I found it easy to turn the pages quickly.
What would happen was foreshadowed:
‘”You realise, Mum, that I won’t always be with you,” she said, her voice small and breathy in the fading light.
Maybe my heart should have frozen then. Maybe I should have turned and gathered her up and taken her home. Kept her shut away in a fortress or a tower. Locked with a golden key that I would swallow, so my stomach would have to be cut open before she could be found. But of course I thought it meant nothing, nothing at all.’
At a local storytelling festival Carmel drifts away when her mother is distracted for a moment. Beth looks for her, sure that she will be able to pick out her daughters red coat from the crowd – Carmel adored the colour red. She couldn’t; Carmel had vanished and her worst fears became her new reality.
That red coat had made it very easy for somebody else to pick out Carmel. She was tricked into believing that she was being fetched for a reason by a person who would spin a very clever web of lies.
The story continues to move between mother and daughter, as one must deal with overwhelming grief and guilt, her ex-husband’s accusations of not having looked after their daughter properly, the pain of separation and not knowing; and the other must deal with a new and very different life, with the loss of everything she had ever known, and with the fear that she would lose the little girl that she knew she was.
‘I start talking and I say it real fierce. I have to say it before it all gets forgotten.
“This is what you must remember. My name is Carmel Summer Wakeford. I used to love in Norfolk, England. My mum’s name was Beth and my dad’s name is Paul. He has a girlfriend called Lucy. I lived in a house with a tree by the side and a spider’s web my the back door. My mum had a glass cat she kept by her bed. There was a picture that said ‘There’s No Place Like Home’. The curtains downstairs were orange. My teacher’s name was Mrs Buckfast. One time my dad took me sailing. My name is Carmel. My name is Carmel Summer Wakeford”
I stop and look around me.
I’m Carmel. I’m alone.’
Though there is a crime this book doesn’t follow the investigation: it follows the lives and the emotions of Beth and Carmel. Their voices ring true, and their stories continued to engage my heart as I followed episodes of their lives over a period of years.
Well, the heart says ‘yes’ but the head says ‘I’m not so sure’.
The writing style is lovely, it’s haunting and images of stories and storytelling are very effectively through; but sometimes that softens the impact of emotions and events. The episodic story structure loses some significant moments – and leaves some major practical points unexplained.
There are times when the story slows and there are times – particularly at the very end – when it feels rushed.
It was were unanswered questions, but I felt that there were rather too many of them; and I wish that the question of Camel’s ‘specialness’ had been handled differently.
And yet I was engaged, I was involved; I cared from the first page to the last, and I had to know what would happen.
This is a good book; it’s very readable, and it would be a lovely holiday read.
My reservations stem simply from the fact that it could have been more.