This is how Holly had woken up every day since the crash. First she would become aware of a weight pressing against her chest; then she’d open her eyes, stiff and unmoving in a breathless clutch of wrinkled sheets, her hands by her sides, as if in a vice, staring into the face of her dead sister from inches away. She hadn’t screamed, not even the first time.
It’s 2001 and Holly believes her life will never change. She and her twin sister Yvonne, growing up on their mother’s isolated farm, will be stuck with each other forever, no matter how desperately Holly longs for freedom. Until, one February morning, Yvonne dies.
For a few brief hours Holly is alone at last. Then her sister’s silent ghost appears, and haunts Holly with ruthless determination. Her cousins arrive, full of promises and secrets. The foot-and-mouth epidemic erupts, and gangs of slaughtermen begin to maraud the countryside. As the pyres blaze, Holly has to find out how far she’s prepared to go for a life that is truly her own.
A gripping and darkly comic tale of loss, haunting and the search for identity in a world on fire.
When is a ghost story not a ghost story? When the metaphorical ‘ghosts’ are more important than the actual one.
This is really a story about, coming-of-age, and finding your place in the world. Set against a backdrop of grief and a countrywide crisis.
One of the things I’ll take away from the book (other than a really compelling main character) is just how evocative it was. Will le Fleming manages to really convey that sense of being on autopilot even when you are otherwise in control, that grief can leave you with. Whilst there are clearly some heartbreaking moments, le Fleming doesn’t allow it to become a depressing read
When Holly’s extended family arrive to help out, it’s slightly uncomfortable to start with, and the raw emotions on show allow some family secrets to rise to the surface, but dealing with the personal and the foot-and-mouth crisis brings a sense family to Holly she’s not had before, it may not be ‘her’ family, but it is a family and therefore something to cling to.
By the end, when the smoke starts to dissipate, there’s a hope and clarity about the future, Holly wasn’t expecting.
I’ll be honest, the stellar comment blurbs and reviews I saw this one getting when I received the initial pitch did leave me thinking this was a new publisher/author slightly ‘over egging the pudding’ as it were, but that’s not the case here.
It’s not perfect. There’s a touch of crassness in the early paragraphs (fairly light as it happens), but they do feel at odds with the rest of the book, and while it’s certainly within character, Holly (and the other younger characters) do act a little older that their actual ages. There was a gap between me reading the first few chapters and the rest of the book, and I honestly thought Holly was older than she was. It was only when I skimmed the first few chapters that I remembered she was only 13. But honestly, it never once spoiled my enjoyment of the book.
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