Here we are, the first review of the Orenda Books Month! I’m extremely excited to share my thoughts, or should I call this a giant praising rambling of one of the most amazing stories I have ever read.
Title: The Mountain in my Shoe
Author: Louise Beech
Publisher: Orenda Books
Date of publication: July 23rd 2016
Number of pages: 300
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ and a half!
A missing boy. A missing book. A missing husband. A woman who must find them all to find herself. On the night Bernadette finally has the courage to tell her domineering husband that she’s leaving, he doesn’t come home. Neither does Conor, the little boy she’s befriended for the past five years. Also missing is his lifebook, the only thing that holds the answers. With the help of Conor’s foster mum, Bernadette must face her own past, her husband’s secrets and a future she never dared imagine in order to find them all.
Exquisitely written and deeply touching, The Mountain in My Shoe is both a gripping psychological thriller and a powerful and emotive examination of the meaning of family … and just how far we’re willing to go for the people we love.
Reading certain stories feels like taking a bath. You open the first page, tentatively brushing the water with your toe to check the temperature, and you relax instantly, you know you are in good hands. So you climb into the tub, you let the steam fill your head and your body soak into the water. The Mountain in my Shoe’s waves of words washed over me until it felt a print on my skin, emotions, and mind.
First, I owe Bernadette an apology. Because of her name, I assumed right from the start that she was an old lady with a cane and a shawl around her shoulders. I blame the wife of a former French president for the image that my brain created of the character, and I was so happy to see it replaced by a more accurate picture of the truth not too long after my first impression. Bernadette is indeed what would be considered an old name in my country and it took me a little while to detach myself from the cliché!
But I had a lot more to think about than just a name. Like some Lego game, every chapter places bits and pieces up and all around you until you are faced with every one the characters, standing tall and naked in front of you. It takes hours and hardships, it takes memories and every one of yours and their senses, it takes steps and emotions, it takes risks and leaves. They say “show, don’t tell”. Louise Beech masterfully introduces you to some of the most wonderful and tragic protagonists I have ever met and throws them into a taut and emotional psychological thriller.
But hope dies eventually, like a potted plant in an unused room.
So, when I read her name, I thought Bernadette and I would remain strangers to each other. The name did not appeal, it felt weird in my mouth, like when you pick a sweet in a box and realize too late it was not the one you wanted. But we met through the beautifully lyrical writing of the author and I was swept away, transported to the life of a woman I’d just met. I could see her move before my eyes, I could feel her pain in my chest. It all happened so fast that before the first chapter, I was far from my couch, my heart aching for a woman stuck in a dull life she did not deserve, in a distressful situation I wanted to save her from. I felt the urge to reach out and fight for her, which rarely happens. Yes, I feel for characters, I fall for them, but I usually don’t feel so empathetic as to want to solve their issues myself! Louise Beech gave me a friend in Bernadette, someone to root for, someone to care for.
She is late to her own life.
Then I met Conor. I used to hate kids and they always loved me. I was the teen stuck with the babies at gathering, bored to death. Now I don’t see many kids but I’m not interested anyway. My biological clock hasn’t started ticking, she is still sound asleep. So, I was surprised to react to Conor’s words, to his sweet childish behavior, to his naive beliefs and I was struck by his courage. I find children narrations to be difficult, but once again Louise Beech nailed it, as youngsters would say. I had this small, resilient voice in my head, hoping, swearing, fighting for his life, for belonging, for answers. The real voice of a child who has been handed bad cards by life.
I reckon family are like the sun and when they leave you get so cold your teeth chatter.
Richard. One of the most mysterious characters I came upon. My emotions towards him changed as different pairs of eyes stared at him, as different minds and histories recalled the good and the bad, as different people shared their life with him. I never felt so unsure of myself. I admit I judge, but I also try and understand decisions, personalities, actions. The author gave me a man I have no idea how to figure out and I am left wondering. Guess what? I loved it this way.
Don’t remind of the man you can be – just sometimes – because I’ve fallen out of love with the one you mostly are.
Other characters filled the holes in Conor’s history. Anne’s warmth reached me when I needed the most, when the tension was so high it felt like waiting for my own kid to walk into the room. A very special narration also waits for you among the pages, and while I expected it to be clear, cut, impersonal, like those kinds of things seem to be, it only showed me there was also light at the heart of a system that does its best with what it is given. I teared up the most at those heart-breaking snippets. I was waiting for them every time, whether they brought good or bad news.
To say characterization was perfect is a euphemism. Characterization is at the heart of The Mountain in my Shoe. Characterization is what makes this story an original and heart-wrenching masterpiece served by the superb writing of a power beyond any author’s dreams.
Torn and broken and shattered hearts are just clichés; really the heart quietly aches in such moments.
I was curious about the connections of events, of course. When I am given drops of life in clever alternate chapters, my appetite for answers grow with every page, as fast as questions and worries started to riddle Bernadette. Her husband gone. A kid gone. The mystery knocks on Bernadette’s door one day the way life likes to invite itself to the party. Of course, you think life’s ruining it with all that tension and those emotions you did not ask for. You had the whole day planned in your head, your own issues to take care of. But the beauty of it is that you even if you never know what it brings you, you must open the door and let it happen, even if it’s terrible. So, it is up to women (again and again!) to pick up the pieces and try to reassemble them to recreate a picture while pressure and tension is trying to crush them. The author plotted this story with the idea of women gently putting life’s shattered parts together to invent a different picture. Louise Beech created a tale of life in which weak and strong go together, tears and laughs are inseparable, things happen for a reason, and you can find beauty and solace where you least expect it.
I cried, I smiled, I laughed, I was frightened, I felt sorry. I lived this story.
Sometimes when you find out everything it just means more questions.
Louise Beech has always been haunted by the sea, and regularly writes travel pieces for the Hull Daily Mail, where she was a columnist for ten years. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice and being published in a variety of UK magazines. Louise lives with her husband and children on the outskirts of Hull – the UK’s 2017 City of Culture – and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012. She is also part of the Mums’ Army on Lizzie and Carl’s BBC Radio Humberside Breakfast Show. How To Be Brave is Louise’s first book. The Mountain in My Shoe will be published in 2016.
(from Orenda Books official website)
You can find her on twitter: @ or on her website.