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 Her mother, Alice, was lovely but she was fragile, and she had been withdrawn and vague ever since her husband left.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.
Araminta 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.