Cruel parenting, violence and rootlessness fail to sap a young woman’s spirit of survival in a striking debut.
Imagination can blossom in the grimmest environment is one lesson of Kay’s appealing, often painful first novel, which captures the creative language and irrepressible spirit of Lulu King, an English child whose horribly abusive, neglectful home life deprives her of education, money, freedom and family. In spite of all this, Lulu has a full fantasy life in which she’s a Masai Mara warrior living in a treehouse above the African grasslands. Lulu’s perilous childhood is intercut with the story of Louise/Catherine/Beverley/Kim, the woman with many names who, after 10 years in prison, is trying to rebuild her life. The cataclysmic events that bridge these two existences emerge slowly as Kay dodges back and forth in time and style, sometimes phonetic, sometimes poetic, challenging the reader to keep up. Lulu grows up on the run, scavenging, meeting kind or thoughtless folk, working a range of jobs in various towns, living in substandard housing, sometimes suicidal. But a sudden windfall frees her to achieve her dream of visiting Africa, where she will find more threats but also friends and a kind of release.
A wild, sometimes disorienting but impressively crafted novel.