#BookReview - The Mountain in My Shoe by Louise Beech

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.

The Mountain in My Shoe is one of those books I've been meaning to read for ages. If the same is true for you then don't wait a minute longer, don't even read the rest of this review, just go and read it. There are some books I can review with my detached head on, not so with this book. I didn't just read it - I felt it. Quite simply it is a beautiful, beautiful book. I fell in love with Louise's writing, the way her characters are brought to life with such authenticity, the poignant, gripping plot, the deep understanding of love, family and needing to belong.
Conor is very special little boy, his simple observations are so touching, yet he is also sadly all too common, one of the many children who pass through the care system, moving from one foster home to another, never able to truly put down roots for fear they will be forced to leave again. He is the heart of the novel with his desperate need for a family, the damage that has been done to him during his short life meaning he never quite lets down his barriers. There is nothing saccharine about Conor though, the chapters that are told from his perspective mean his life is brought to the page as chaotically and messily as you'd expect from a child in his situation. He shouts, he swears and even when he is in a settled, supportive foster home his actions are exactly what a small boy who needs to push boundaries would do.
The chapters that follow Bernadette, as she desperately searches for Conor while trying to make sense of her own life, have an entirely different feel to them; while Conor's drama plays out in his own words, Bernadette's life is told in the third person. As her story is gradually revealed though we learn they have more in common than just the relationship they have formed through a befriending scheme. They have both been let down by those who are supposed to love and cherish them. They are both the victims of the secrets of others, both lonely even when they're not alone and as the tension mounts they could both be in terrible danger. This is a book that sublimely combines the sensitive exploration of what family means with a riveting, unexpected psychological thriller.
The pages of Conor's Lifebook - the book given to children in the care system so they get a record of their upbringing - are interspersed throughout the novel and are an insight into the lives of children like him, children for whom decisions are made by social workers and panels, children who lead fragmented, precarious lives, never knowing when they may be moved on again. Although many of these entries have the detached language of authority they still have the power to be deeply moving. With writing this exquisitely emotive there was no way I was going to escape dry-eyed, my tears were inevitable so captivated was I by this heart-rending tale of the capacity for love and hope to prevail over fear and rejection.
If you're still here reading this, thank you - now go and read The Mountain in My Shoe, this is storytelling at its finest, compelling, absorbing and compassionate.

The Mountain in My Shoe is published by Orenda Books. Louise can be followed on Twitter as @LouiseWriter and her website is here. Orenda are on Twitter as @OrendaBooks.

About the Author

Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. She 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.