Published by Faber and Faber
Publication date – 24 December 2015 (paperback edition)
Source – review copy
“Shortlisted for the 2015 Costa First Novel Award
Eight-year-old Carmel has always been different – sensitive, distracted, with an heartstopping tendency to go missing. Her mother Beth, newly single, worries about her daughter’s strangeness, especially as she is trying to rebuild a life for the two of them on her own.
When she takes Carmel for an outing to a local festival, her worst fear is realised: Carmel disappears into the crowd. Unable to accept the possibility that her daughter might be gone for good, Beth embarks on a mission to find her. Meanwhile, Carmel begins an extraordinary and terrifying journey of her own. But do the real clues to Carmel’s disappearance lie in the otherworldly qualities her mother had only begun to guess at?”
3.5 of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book from the publisher and this is my honest opinion of the book.
Carmel and Beth are visiting a story-telling festival. Beth is eager to spend quality time with Carmel, aware that she hasn’t been herself since she split from Paul, Carmel’s father. But her world comes crashing down when Carmel disappears from the festival. As the days turn into weeks Beth struggles with the guilt of Carmel’s abduction. Meanwhile, Carmel has to adjust to the shift in her world when she starts to live with her new family. A family who believe she will be their saviour.
There were places in this book where it was almost too painful to read, where the despair of Carmel mirrored that of her mother. I don’t believe that just because I am a parent I have any right to say I could understand the feeling Beth suffers more than a reader without children. I couldn’t and no one could unless they have been unfortunately and sadly subject to such a loss. Such terror and sorrow can only be guessed at. I do feel however that Kate Hamer got the tone right as to how I imagine the situation would feel.
As for me I was torn between sorrow and anger for the first half of the book. My heart broke for Carmel and Beth and I found myself wanting to alternatively put the book down or carry on reading in the hope for some good outcome. As for Gramps I hated him with a passion. His actions negated any possibly sympathy he could possible deserve.
But, the strength of feeling evoked only shows what a good writer Kate Hamer is. It is only through her accomplished and compelling narrative that the feelings of Beth, Paul, Carmel and the other characters shine through. It is because she writes so well that the abject heartbreak of Beth can be felt by the reader, as can the upset, loneliness and confusion of Carmel.
This is touted as a thriller though I would say its not a thriller in the usual sense. It is a story about religious fervour and what it will drive a man to do. It is a story about loss, about finding new parts of yourself and new inspiration in the world. It is also a story about learning to live in a new world when your own is tilted off its axis, and about remaining true to yourself.
I raced through the final third of this book, desperate to find out how the story would end for Beth and Carmel. The book is full of beautifully written, almost poetic prose, evoking vivid images. I could easily imagine the US country towns, trailer parks and evangelical meetings. The contrast between the wide open spaces of the geography of Carmel world contradicted Beth’s closed and insular one, where a major achievement was walking into town unaccompanied. Yet Carmel’s own environment is a small one, limited to her ‘Gramps’ and his family, despite the open areas and itinerant lifestyle they live.
A book that will make you think and run you through a gamut of emotions. I look forward to reading more from Kate Hamer in the future.