Dot by Araminta Hall

Two girls – best friends – Dot and Mavis – are playing hide and seek at Dot’s house. It’s a wonderful old house with lots of rooms, lots of nooks and crannies, so many wonderful places to hide. Dot finds a new hiding place, and in it she finds the photograph of a young man, trapped between the bed and the wall.

Could it be the father she never knew?

The father who named her:

“Dot he thought, let her be Dot. because she is a beginning. A tiny dot of life that will grow into something wonderful.”

Dot didn’t know that.

“A dot is the smallest, most insignificant thing there is. And it’s a full stop, so an ending. I mean, who on earth would call their child Dot?’

She didn’t know anything at all about him. She knew that she wanted know, but she knew that she probably shouldn’t ask her mother or her grandmother. Her mother, Alice, was lovely but she was fragile, and she had been withdrawn and vague ever since her husband left. And her  grandmother, Clarice, had only been able to cope with her own husband’s death, years earlier, by becoming the keeper of the house, the upholder of proprieties.

This is the story of the grandmother, the mother, and the daughter. It’s the story of another mother and daughter: Mavis and her mother Sandra. And it’s the story of Dot’s absent father.

17302114Araminta Hall moves backwards and forwards in time, to meet them all at defining points in their lives. The voices are distinctive, the character are believable, and as I learned more I really felt that I knew them better, I understood their relationships better. Because, of course, these stories overlap and have consequences for each other.

Each and every character holds onto secrets, and seems unable to talk about the things that are really important to them. And  there are consequences, of course there are. Relationships between mothers and daughters, men and women, that are sometimes undermined and sometimes fractured.

Araminta Hall has the knack of illuminating ordinary lives, understanding that everybody has a story to tell, and making those lives fascinating.

All of the big things are there – birth, marriage, death – but it is the understanding of little things that really make this book sing.

The observation is acute, and there’s a lovely thread of humour running through this very human story.

I was drawn in, I cared, and I wanted to know.

Two years ago, when I read Araminta Hall’s first novel, I wrote.

“… on the evidence of this book, I fully expect Araminta Hall to write a “wow” book before too long …”

This isn’t quite a “wow” book, but it’s a wonderful progression from her first novel, and I’m happy to stand by belief that there will be one, one day in the not too distant future.

Library Loot

Library books have been coming home more quickly than they are going back, but it is so tempting to check my library account, see if anything has arrived, look for any good book I’ve spotted, see if anything I’ve been waiting for has come into stock, maybe order a book from one of my library lists

There are worse – and more expensive – sins!

But I have to catch up with myself because this week I took just one book – that I didn’t get on with – back, and I picked up four reservations.

My library ticket will only stretch so far!


The Sea Sisters by Lucy Clarke

“There are some currents in the relationship between sisters that run so dark and deep, it’s better for people on the surface never to know what’s beneath …”

I love stories about sisters, I love stories about the sea, and so I had to order this one.

The Promise by Ann Weisgarber

“I read Oscar’s letter again. He offered escape from my debts, from my mother’s rejection, and from certain poverty. He offered escape from myself.”

This went on to my ‘please put it into stock’ list when Lindsey wrote about it, and when I spotted it going into stock I jumped into the queue. I’ve nearly finished this one, and I’m impressed …

Dot by Araminta Hall

“Dot he thought, let her be Dot. because she is a beginning. A tiny dot of life that will grow into something wonderful.”

I liked Araminta Hall’s first novel, this looked like an interesting progression, and when Naomi wrote about Dot I just had to place an order. I’ve read just the first few chapters, and I’m intrigued …

The Curious Habits of Doctor Adams: a 1950’s Murder Mystery by Jane Robins

“Was Mrs Gertrude Hullet murdered at her luxurious 15-room house on Beachy Head? detectives are trying to establish the cause of the 50-year-old widow’s sudden death …”

I was impresses with Jane Robins’ first book – an account of the brides in the bath case that mixed intrigue, biography and social history – and so when I saw she had written another, about a case I knew nothing about, I ordered it straight away.

I’m quite taken with the fact that my library loot is colour coordinated this week.

And I’m pleased that I’ll be able to take a couple of books back this weekend, because there are already more reservations waiting …

Everything and Nothing by Araminta Hall

“The tube spat Agatha into one of those areas where people used to lie about their postcodes. Although why anyone ever would have been ashamed to live here was beyond Agatha’s understanding …”

The opening of Araminta Hall’s debut novel sets things up very nicely.

Ruth and Christian are struggling to balance their busy, busy lives: juggling demanding careers, patching up a marriage battered by his affair, a five-year old daughter who won’t sleep, and a three-year old son who won’t eat.

But then there is Agatha, a veritable Mary Poppins. She arrives as a potential new nanny to be interviewed finds a house and a family in chaos, but she takes it all in her stride, quickly calms the situation and then settles down to play happily with the children.

Her references are impeccable, and she is available immediately.

Does that sound a little bit too perfect? Of course it does!

Araminta Hall makes it clear from the very start that Agatha’s motives are questionable to say the least.

Life moves along with one problem seemingly solved, but others still looming.

The plot is nicely managed, with some twists predictable and others not, and with the author cleverly building up the tension without ever drifting into melodrama.

It works because the characters of Ruth and Christian, and indeed their troubled relationship,  are so well drawn, and the psychology spot on.

I feared that she was on the verge of a breakdown as she struggled to keep on top of far too many things, and I wanted to scream at her to accept that she wasn’t superwoman, and that she needed to rethink her priorities.

And he I could have cheerfully strangled, as he so often failed to understand and take responsibility as an adult. But he could learn. Couldn’t he?

So many conversations and incidents rang completely true.

And along the way I found some profound truths about parent child relationships, and about how being a parent, however much you may love your children, doesn’t make you infallible, doesn’t mean you know how to cope.

There really were moments when the dialogue just stopped me in my tracks.

The character of Agatha was, I’m afraid, a little more troublesome. It’s a difficult on to explain without giving away crucial plot points, so I’ll just say that I so very nearly believed in her, but not quite.

Her character was compromised by the conclusion. I believed in how she got there, but what she did in the end just didn’t ring true.

You see, Everything and Nothing is being marketed as a thriller, and it works as a thriller. For me though it worked even better as a contemporary human drama, and I felt that having the conclusion play out as a thriller compromised that more interesting side of the story.

It was a good conclusion, and I was gripped until the very end, but ultimately it made the book a “great” rather than a “wow.”

Everything and Nothing is a thought provoking, and very, very readable debut novel. And, on the evidence of this book, I fully expect Araminta Hall to write a “wow” book before too long. I’ll certainly be watching out for it.