The Mountain in my Shoe by Louise Beech

mountainIt’s hard not be a little bit in love with Louise Beech. She tells stories, and although her novels are fictional they are rooted in human experience. I can’t help but think that the world would be a better place if we all told our stories and more importantly, if we all listened to other people’s. How often do we pass our judgment on someone, who they are or have been, or project our own anxieties onto others, rather than listen to them tell us for real? Stories have power and with both How to be Brave and The Mountain in my Shoe Louise proves it.

The core relationship in How to be Brave was between a mother and daughter as they came to terms with a life changing illness. In The Mountain in my Shoe the focus is on Conor, a child moving through the care system, and his befriender Bernadette. Both of them need love and Bernadette provides stability to Conor by always returning and never letting him go in the way all the other adults in his life have, whilst she also receives a “saving” relationship herself that prevents her from sinking in an abusive marriage.

The story is told from three perspectives. Third person prose takes us through Bernadette’s experience as she desperately searches for the missing Conor whilst also reflecting on a life trapped within lost dreams. Conor tells his own story of a night of adventure and discovery, whilst between these two narratives, segments of his Life Book reveal his bigger journey through a series of looked after experiences since separation from his mother and siblings.

There is a sense throughout the novel of wounded people internalising their issues and struggling to deal with them, until they are faced with the most broken of them all and he heals them. As a society we do not deal with our wounds well, generally transmitting our pain to others rather than transforming it within it ourselves. This is reflected in the story as Frances inflicts hers on her children, Richard on his wife and Bernadette on herself, but Conor, who has been rejected time and again and hurt most of all, transforms each of them with the honesty of his love.

It’s important stuff that in Western culture we have largely pushed to the side and avoided. All of us suffer pain of some sort but it is in the vulnerability of accepting our wounds, and those of other people, that we can turn them into gifts. Bernadette had suffered great loss in a miscarriage but in time she was able to hold that pain and transform it into a love that could overturn a lifetime of rejection for Conor. Richard projected his pain onto his marriage resulting in an abusive relationship, but in Conor found a way to transform that negativity into something beautiful, saving both of them in very different ways. And somehow Conor manages to hold his suffering, despite his undoubted frustration, in a way that lights up the world around him.

Once each character was able to accept their own pain they were able to transform themselves and those around them. It is a novel, written well and with warmth, and it is also a window into a truth that can permeate our own lives. That’s why we need good writers to tell good stories.

This book is a gift.

And your story can be too.

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How to be Brave by Louise Beech

How to be BraveNatalie’s world is turned upside down when her 9 year old daughter, Rose, collapses and is later diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Her husband is in the forces and stationed in Afghanistan leaving Natalie and Rose to come to terms with this life changing event on their own. This is chick-lit right? Well actually no. It’s a piece of magic that will sustain anyone with a beating heart in their breast and even the slightest sense of wonder and mystery.

The mechanics of the story are that as Rose and Natalie try to come to terms with the impact of diabetes on their everyday lives and their relationship they are visited by Colin, Natalie’s grandad who during World War 2 was stranded on a lifeboat with a group of other seamen after their ship was sunk by a German submarine. The two strands run together as mother and daughter uncover their relative’s diary and retell his story in order to cope with their own struggle.

It isn’t the basic ingredients that matter so much though as the result. This is a yellow brick road of a novel that when it delivers you home will have you seeing all the people you care about anew, in glorious Technicolour. The stories are authentically told, in fact they are rooted in the author’s family history, and the characters are so real that they speak to anyone who knows what it is to be alone and what it means to be connected to others.

In the book Shoeless Joe by W P Kinsella there is a moment when Ray Kinsella’s prize baseball field is under threat and the character J D Salinger (yes that one) stands up to say that the field will be saved by its magic because “The people who come here will be drawn… They’ll walk out to the bleacher and sit in shirtsleeves in the perfect evening… They’ll watch the game and it will be as if they knelt in front of a faith healer, or dipped themselves in magic waters where a saint once rose like a serpent and cast benedictions to the wind like peach petals.”

How to Be Brave shares the same magic that Ray Kinsella’s “Field of Dreams” possessed. It makes you want to snuggle up with your own children in a book nook and hold them close. It makes you want to return to your own childhood and hear stories from your parents and grandparents of times when they were young, before you knew them. Colin’s story is exceptional and Natalie and Rose’s story is moving, but they are windows to our own stories too.

I will be honest and say that I was approached to review the book because of the lack of male perspectives in the arranged blog tour and it is not something that I would have naturally picked up from the bookshop, but I am delighted that it found its way to me. The writing is enticing and accessible and the stories poignant and affecting. It is a novel about the power of story and also a novel that proves that power.

How to be Brave Tour