A stunning, beautifully written psychological thriller by the critically acclaimed author of How To Be Brave and The Mountain in My Shoe.
Thirty-two-year-old Catherine Hope has a great memory. But she can't remember everything. She can't remember her ninth year. She can't remember when her insomnia started. And she can't remember why everyone stopped calling her Catherine-Maria.
With a promiscuous past, and licking her wounds after a painful breakup, Catherine wonders why she resists anything approaching real love. But when she loses her home to the devastating deluge of 2007 and volunteers at Flood Crisis, a devastating memory emerges... and changes everything.
Dark, poignant and deeply moving, Maria in the Moon is an examination of the nature of memory and truth, and the defences we build to protect ourselves, when we can no longer hide...
I'm thrilled to be hosting the blog tour for the wonderful Maria In The Moon today, particularly as I have a copy of the book to give away to one lucky winner. Many thanks to Orenda Books, Louise Beech and Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, for my copy of Maria In The Moon provided in return for my honest review and for providing the prize of a brand new paperback copy of the book. I loved Louise's previous novel, The Mountain In My Shoe when I read that a few months ago so was really looking forward to reading this one.
I need to make a little confession at the start of this review. I read Maria In The Moon in one sitting. On my wedding anniversary. In my defence we were travelling back to Dorset from Scotland and I usually fall asleep in the car so I was at least conscious, even if I did ignore my husband in favour of a book for a few hours. And what a book it is! I didn't just read Maria In The Moon, I became immersed in it. Louise writes stories that leap from the page, she creates books that are so authentic as to almost feel like pop-ups; you don't just imagine the scenes, you feel part of them.
Set shortly after the floods that badly affected Hull in 2007, Maria In the Moon is a poignant reminder of that devastating day,
'We all called it 'That Day'. That Day I'd opened the gate, causing a small wave. That Day I'd paused when brown, thigh-high water wet my underwear. That Day waves had lapped at the windowsill, splashed tears against glass. It spilled into airbricks, entered through every hole and crack, uninvited, intrusive. It ruined all that I'd built, all that I'd had.'
Never an author to sugarcoat such shattering events, Louise Beech also recognises that while some parts of the community pull together, others are less altruistic and more concerned about people receiving more than they are entitled to - something we've seen more recently following the Grenfell Tower fire,
'"They've landed on their feet and all they do is complain." He pointed out an article squashed between Fern's 'Wholly Matrimony' column and a picture of John Prescott with a super-sized marrow. "Chap here got fifty grand from his insurance company. He'll be in Majorca by next Tuesday, mark my words."'
Catherine is a wonderful lead character, she is instantly real. We learn right from the start that she has a strange relationship with names, she doesn't remember why people stopped calling her by her long name, Catherine-Maria and now she chooses the names she gives people.
'I give people longer, different and more quirky ones. Whatever they're really called doesn't matter to me. I'll shorten them or lengthen them, sometimes switch the letters around, or add a Y. Change them altogether.'
She has to give herself a new name when she starts volunteering for the Flood Crisis helpline. She chooses Katrina, after the Hurricane and it suits her. She is a whirlwind of emotions, she often makes inappropriate comments and her spiky, combative personality sees her constantly arguing with her family, particularly her mother, yet she has a history of helpline volunteering and has a loving friendship with her best friend. The barriers she has built around herself are her way of protecting herself from a past she doesn't remember. She sabotages her relationships, convinced she doesn't deserve to be loved; after all even her beloved Nanny Eve stopped using her full name, Catherine-Maria when she was nine. She remembers being eight, that's when her dad died, and she recalls her tenth birthday. She can't remember anything of her ninth year though, not even why she became just Catherine. Then, on a one night stand she has a visceral reaction to being called 'Tiger'. Why does that word affect her so?
Catherine's mum died in childbirth, so the person she calls Mother is actually her stepmother. There is is a warm humour to the way she frequently admonishes Catherine about swearing in various situations but there are moments in the book where I wanted to shake her. Although her behaviour is often infuriating, even shocking, she is no cardboard cutout wicked stepmother, just a flawed human being. As the book progressed I felt for them both, however badly they seemed to behave, their relationship is absolutely genuine albeit badly damaged. Catherine is closer to her stepfather, Graham but still desperately misses her dad. For all her abrasiveness, in many ways she seems like a lost child, frozen in time by the events of her past.
'Now I tried to cling to the memory. To him. I imagined Dad stroking my hair and kissing my nose and saying he;d got everything he wanted and nothing bad would ever happen.'
Memories don't stay buried forever though, as she starts to form bonds with her fellow volunteers at the Flood Crisis helpline, particularly with Christopher. She starts to lower her barriers and as she does so the memories she has blocked for so long begin to return. Her heartrending interactions with callers to the helpline are sensitively and emotively brought to life and provide the catalyst to her remembering. Maria In The Moon isn't a thriller with a shock reveal towards the end, instead I felt that I was guided towards working out the broad facts of the horrific events of Catherine's childhood before she does. Waiting for her to remember, wondering how, and if she'll cope was actually far more tense. Despite having guessed some of what Catherine had forgotten, I was moved to tears by the beautiful and sensitive writing when she finally recalls her past and the full, heartbreaking truth of what happened all those years ago.
Maria In The Moon is a book about fear, love, hope and redemption. Louise Beech made me cry on my wedding anniversary and I love her for it; this is a very special book, insightful, empathetic, moving and so very real.
Maria In The Moon is published by Orenda Books. You can follow Louise Beech on Twitter as @LouiseWriter
I'm delighted to be able to give away one paperback copy of Maria In The Moon. See below for how to enter. Regretfully this giveaway is only open to UK residents.
Maria In The Moon giveaway
About the Author
Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. The sequel, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize. Both books have been number one on Kindle, Audible and Kobo in USA/UK/AU. 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.