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Murder, suicide, madness and awful food: An artless Welsh child must deal with them all in this dire first novel from Strachan, a resident of West Wales.

Gwenni Morgan dreams every night of flying above her small seaside town in North Wales. Her reasons for escaping the here-and-now are clear. In her cramped home, the 12-year-old must share a bed with her hostile big sister Bethan. A bigger problem is her Mam (Mom). When she’s not burning the pudding, Magda Morgan is on her daughter’s case: Do this; don’t do that. And why must she be so odd? Gwenni is an imaginative child who gives personalities to household objects. Her Tada (Dad), a gentle, passive stonemason, tolerates this, but Magda rules. There is another unhappy family in town. Ifan Evans is a shepherd, his wife Elin a genteel, sympathetic teacher; they have two small daughters. Rumor has it that he abuses his wife and kids; he may even have killed two of their babies in the past. Sometimes Gwenni helps Elin look after the girls, and she’s very good with them. For half its length the novel, narrated by Gwenni, putters along like an old-fashioned YA story. The main activity in town is gossip; the period is the dreary interval between World War II and the arrival of television. The gossips have a field day when Ifan disappears and his body is found floating in the reservoir. Detectives question Gwenni. Two arrests are made, and a minor character kills herself (slashed wrists, lots of blood) before attention shifts back to Gwenni’s family. Mam is becoming increasingly agitated over the dead shepherd. Were they lovers when Tada was off in the war? Skeletons tumble out of the closet in a last-minute rush, including revelations of madness and suicide (wristwork again) one generation back. Gwenni has her first period. When Mam becomes hysterical, calling her Satan, it’s time for the needle. The doctor obliges.

A coming-of-age story hijacked by Grand Guignol.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-84767-192-9
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Canongate
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2009