I didn’t get a summer break this year thanks to covid so missed a week at the beach, Instead, we’ve decided to spend a week with THE Beech – Louise Beech to be precise. This week marks five years since the paperback publication of her first novel, How To Be Brave, and as part of our Year of Orenda celebrations, we are bringing you a full week of all of Louise’s absolutely superb novels. the Mountain in My Shoe, was the first of the books I read by Louise Beech and I still remember the emotions it drw out of me, especially reading about Conor and his ‘life book’. Mandie shared her thoughts on the blog earlier this year and you can find the review here. Before we take a look back at my thoughts, here’s what the book is all about:
About the Book
A missing boy. A missing book. A missing husband. A woman who must find them all to find herself.
On the night Bernadette finally has the courage to tell her domineering husband that she’s leaving, he doesn’t come home. Neither does Conor, the little boy she’s befriended for the past five years. Also missing is his lifebook, the only thing that holds the answers. With the help of Conor’s foster mum, Bernadette must face her own past, her husband’s secrets and a future she never dared imagine in order to find them all.
Exquisitely written and deeply touching, The Mountain in My Shoe is both a gripping psychological thriller and a powerful and emotive examination of the meaning of family … and just how far we’re willing to go for the people we love.
‘The Mountain In My Shoe’ is a beautifully moving story which looks clearly at the importance of family, and the honesty, innocence and surety that can be found by looking at the world through the eyes of a child.
The styling is unique, the prose most poetic at times, and Conor’s story one of continual rejection and upheaval that will almost certainly make you shed a few tears along the way. That said there are moments of pure joy throughout as well, and elements of humour too. The story is told by three very distinct voices which is what gives it that unique, honest feeling.
First you have Bernadette’s story, told in third person narrative which makes some of what she has endured more bearable to hear. Next up is Conor, told in first person with the kind of uncensored honesty that could only come from a child. The unwavering faith, despite everything he has been through, and the inability to engage the brain before the words flow from his mouth certainly made me smile.
And the final voice, the most unusual of them all, is ‘the book’. Yes. A book. More precisely Conor’s life book, a book given to him at birth to track all the key milestones during his time in the foster care system. It includes official reports, letters from foster carers and even from his birth mother. This book is a perfect segue way from Conor’s past to the point in time where we meet him today. But it is also one of the most moving parts of the whole story as we begin to understand just how many times Conor has been moved along having become too old, too neglected, or too inconvenient, until he finally settled in his current home with Anne. It is hard to read at times, but sadly not a unique story. It is empathetically written but enables the reader to feel a true sense of what life is like for foster children everywhere. Not all of Conor’s carers are perfect, but there is so much love for him in these passages, something so refreshing to see in a world so quick to critizise the care system. Please do not feel tempted to skip or skim read these chapters. They really, truly matter.
Conor is a brilliant character, his story is so moving and it forms the largest part of the text. He is obsessed with Mohammed Ali and boxing after he was introduced to it by one of his foster brothers and, in fact, this fascination is where the title is drawn from. He loves to draw, with almost perfect recall, and hates to leave things half finished. His character is informed but not dominated by his past and he is a truly loveable young boy. But probably what my Nan would have called a rapscallion too. You are invested in his story and his future from the very start. However, Bernadette’s story is just as compelling. You can feel the claustrophobic nature of her marriage, the gradual manipulation of her husband to control her every move. It is the little things rather than any big obvious elements of violence which add a level of authenticity to the book. Her shock discoveries throughout are reflected in her fear of Richard’s retribution when he finally gets home. She is alone and isolated and Conor and his foster mother Anne are her only lifeline. The desperation she feels in thinking she may have lost Conor too is palpable.
The descriptive narrative feeds a clear understanding of the location and the circumstances in which these characters live. The apartment in which Bernadette and Richard live is a perfect metaphor for the decay and neglect which exists in their marriage and add to the tone, the atmosphere, of the book itself. This book is a mystery, yes, but so much more than that too. Was I truly shocked by the truth as it emerges? No. But I don’t feel I needed to be, as everything that surrounded it, that built that most tragically hopeful picture of the lives of our two protagonists, made this book perfect. You don’t need big shocks to surprise. And this book is proof that sometimes the most simple imagery, the single pebble in your shoe feeling like a mountain, can capture spirit and meaning far more than a dramatic reveal ever could. Simply beautiful.
About the Author
Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. The follow-up, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize. Both of her previous books Maria in the Moon and The Lion Tamer Who Lost were widely reviewed, critically acclaimed and number-one bestsellers on Kindle. The Lion Tamer Who Lost was shortlisted for the RNA Most Popular Romantic Novel Award in 2019. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice. Louise lives with her husband on the outskirts of Hull, and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012.
Books By Louise Beech