5 / 5 Stars
A prime example of how heart-wrenching, upsetting subject matters can still be uplifting and lovely.
Gosh. I finished this last night and sat for about twenty minutes, processing what I'd just read. It was remarkably well done, and all the more so for being so accessible and fun.
There are two principle characters in this book - Masha, a woman in grieving for her two year old son, and trying to learn how to live her life again, and Alice, who has a 13 year old son called Matty, and some ominous secrets to boot.
Masha swims every day at her local lido, and refers on more than one occasion to her 'education in drowning'. It transpires, with great poignancy, that she's trying to appreciate what her child went through when he died. She's got some steadfast friends to help her along, not least Haizam the dog, but the most significant is the lady she calls 'Sally' at the cemetery, who others might refer to as completely off her rocker, but who Masha thinks is wonderful. Sally, though sometimes lost in her own little world, comes out with occasional nuggets of wisdom that give Masha pause for thought.
As for Alice? She's struggling with the responsibilities of raising a troubled teenager, and also the secret of her illness. Even preparing ready meals for Matty to eat becomes a challenge, and as the book progresses, she reveals something that spins the entire story on its head.
As with The Keeper of Lost Things, Ruth Hogan succeeds in creating a warm cast of characters that showcase some of humanity's nicer aspects - kindness to strangers, support during the tough times, and the ability to survive in the face of agonising adversity. Even though the subject matter of this book is far darker than the previous one, it's handled with humour and positivity, but also with great respect for those who have experienced the loss of a child.
I saw the ending coming from about halfway into the book, but that didn't stop my appreciation of it - it was gut-wrenching to read, and could have easily strayed into sensationalism, though the author managed to steer it into poignancy instead; no mean feat!
Overall, a lovely, gentle, uplifting read - don't let the painful topics put you off if possible, because it really is enjoyable.