Set in the earliest days of the 1900s, this exquisitely immersive novella by Cara Viola invites you to stride into the archives of Glasgow’s glorious Kelvingrove museum when it has been built but is yet to be filled with treasures.
Our guide is 19-year-old Madeleine, a young woodworker with a talent for recreating priceless artefacts, who arrives rain-drenched on pages soaked in Carla Viola’s lyrical writing.
We soon learn three things about Madeleine: she is from Great Yarmouth, the only thing she will miss is ‘her’ marsh, and she keeps secrets, a fact told sideways as she meets Mrs Deepdene, the wife of Madeleine’s employer (and a formidable character in her own right). Madeleine “tried to see the other woman’s face, to gauge whether she, too, would be someone who kept secrets.”
The Kelvingrove museum feels equally ripe for secrets, breathed into life by the author’s vivid writing: “From the shadows of the Gothic tradition, the structure rose into the sky, where, at a tremendous height, solid walls divided into many-armed turrets (…) The door had not been locked since the last workman left, yet nobody wanted to venture inside. Kelvingrove was a building lying in wait.”
Book Balm recommendation: read when you need reminding that every person you meet has their own story.
Reading almost like a novella in flash and expanding outwards from her Costa Award shortlisted tale Red, Amanda Huggins’ latest creation is a tensely told yet heart-affirming work. The focus is fifteen-year-old Mollie, seemingly trapped in a nightmarish situation until she finds the courage to escape with stray dog Hal.
The friendship between Mollie and Hal is a steel thread through the story, offering solace and strength in the face of disappointments, betrayals and the occasional kindness. This is a journey full of perils and adventure, with happy as well as sour memories trailing behind and the hope of a safe return to what was once home ahead.
When Mollie’s mum Ellie meets Sherman Rook, it’s clear almost at once that he’s no good. “Something in his eyes glittered hard and bright as he appraised her cloud of unruly blonde hair, the jut of her determined chin and her long tanned legs.”
Before the chapter’s end Ellie and Mollie are moving to live with Sherman far from everyone they know. The sense of danger is palpable.
It contrasts sharply with the coastal life Mollie loves, close to her brother Angel and father. The close yet roaming third-person narrative allows chapters to read like flash fictions, with some focused on Ellie and opening up insights into her behaviour, while others share aspects of people Mollie meets only briefly, providing an exterior view of Mollie that helps us see both her vulnerability and gumption.
It all contributes to a richly layered whole.