It was a standing joke that when my friend Carolyn and I went on holiday, our trip would inevitably include a visit to a cemetery.
Beethoven, Emily Bronte, Brahms, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, we’ve visited them all, along with many thousands of other less famous names – although often with grander graves – around the world.
I know it’s a bit odd but I like stories and I always feel like cemeteries are packed with them.
Ruth Hogan loved reading gravestones as a child (and still does, according to her bio) and a cemetery plays a prominent role in The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes.
Perhaps that’s part of the reason why I felt instantly at home within its pages? It seemed like someone else not only got it but explained it much more eloquently than I ever could.
That’s only a small part of what I loved about this book, though. It is also so beautifully written that some of the sentences actually made me stop and sigh with pleasure.
I’m late to the Ruth Hogan party but she has definitely gained a fan.
Here’s the blurb:
Masha is drowning. Once a spirited, independent woman with a rebellious streak, her life has been forever changed by a tragic event twelve years ago. Unable to let go of her grief, she finds solace in the silent company of the souls of her local Victorian cemetery and at the town’s lido, where she seeks refuge underwater – safe from the noise and the pain.
But a chance encounter with two extraordinary women – the fabulous and wise Kitty Muriel, a convent girl-turned-magician’s wife-turned-seventy-something-roller-disco-fanatic, and the mysterious Sally Red Shoes, a bag lady with a prodigious voice – opens up a new world of possibilities, and the chance to start living again.
Until the fateful day when the past comes roaring back…
The book has some dark themes at its centre (child loss, cancer, death) but it’s strangely uplifting and full of hope.
There’s a certain amount of mystery to the plot that kept me guessing right to the end.
But the characters are what make it. The cast are wonderfully eccentric; the type that makes you wish they were real so you could befriend them.
Masha is complex, both tough and vulnerable, funny and sad. I felt very connected to her and her story.
I’ve thought long and hard about the ending in the days since I finished the book and while unsure at first, I think Ruth definitely got it right (if you read it, please let me know what you think).
Despite its rave reviews (not to mention another beautiful cover), her debut, The Keeper Of Lost Things, passed me by but I will definitely be going back to it and can’t wait for her new one, Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel.
Price: 99p (via Amazon).
My rating: Five stars.
With many thanks to Two Roads (via NetGalley) for the ARC in return for an honest review.