Humanity Hallows Issue 4 Out Now!
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“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.” Legendary boxer Muhammad Ali inspires the second novel by Orenda Books’ Louise Beech
By Jacqueline Grima
When Bernadette Shaw goes to look for the Lifebook of the fostered boy she befriends, she finds it missing from the book shelf where she so carefully placed it. When Bernadette attempts to trace the book, she discovers that Conor, the boy she has become so close to over five years, is also missing. The same day, Bernadette’s husband Richard fails to come home from work. So begins Louise Beech’s second novel The Mountain in my Shoe, a beautifully told story about hope, family and the importance of not giving up on the life we deserve to live.
Conor Jordan is ten years old and, during his short life, has been abandoned by the mother who gave birth to him, separated from his siblings and has lived with a variety of different foster carers. When Bernadette befriends him through the Befriend for Life service, she begins to contribute to his Lifebook, a very special scrapbook that contains letters and notes from everyone that has been involved in Conor’s life and that will be given to him on his 18th birthday. When the book and the boy go missing, Bernadette, alongside Conor’s current foster carer Anne, sets out to try and find out what has happened to the child they both care for deeply.
The Mountain in my Shoe, a follow up to Beech’s debut novel How to be Brave, is beautifully told from the outset, the author’s grip of language and hauntingly original metaphor immediately drawing the reader in to both Bernadette’s and Conor’s stories. With a triple-fold narrative, the story told from both Bernadette and Conor’s points of view, punctuated with extracts from the Lifebook, the novel switches seamlessly from one voice to the next without ever pushing the reader out. Bernadette and Conor, as well as the many other fully rounded secondary characters in the novel, are not just names on a page but people, whose fates we must follow and who very quickly become part of our lives.
Conor’s ten-year-old voice works particularly well in this novel, with the reader invited to follow events, through his narration, that Bernadette and Anne are not party to. Thus, as they follow his trail through the dark streets of Hull to the River Humber, the reader ends up willing the people that care about Conor to find him. To perhaps change the fate of the child who has experienced such a sad beginning to his life, a fate that could massively impact the fates of all those around him, particularly that of Bernadette.
Like Conor’s idol Muhammad Ali, whose performances he carries everywhere with him on DVD, this novel is something that could well be talked about for many years to come.