Today I’m delighted to join the blog tour for Nothing Else, the latest novel from Louise Beech. A huge thank you to Orenda Books for the advance copy of the book and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the tour invite. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
Heather Harris is a piano teacher and professional musician, whose quiet life revolves around music, whose memories centre on a single song that haunts her. A song she longs to perform again. A song she wrote as a child, to drown out the violence in their home. A song she played with her little sister, Harriet.
But Harriet is gone … she disappeared when their parents died, and Heather never saw her again.
When Heather is offered an opportunity to play piano on a cruise ship, she leaps at the chance. She’ll read her recently released childhood care records by day – searching for clues to her sister’s disappearance – and play piano by night … coming to terms with the truth about a past she’s done everything to forget.
An exquisitely moving novel about surviving devastating trauma, about the unbreakable bond between sisters, Nothing Else is also a story of courage and love, and the power of music to transcend – and change – everything.
Louise Beech is the kind of author who seems to reinvent themselves with each and every new book. Whilst you can always rely on her to provide a compelling and beautiful narrative, and to be able to elicit emotion from even the hardest heart, when you open up any of her titles you can expect something completely new. She is the author who refuses to be pigeon holed and, once again, with Nothing Else, she delivers an entirely different experience. Yes, it’s a story which is full of emotion, contemplation and complex relationships. There is even an air of melancholy through a large part of the book. But much more than that, there is the real sense of hope wrapped up in a story of two sisters, torn apart by fate.
This is the story of Heather, a pianist turned piano teacher who has struggled through life, haunted by memories of her past and the little sister she lost years ago. When a new student sparks memories of her past, Heather makes a life changing decision, applying for and accepting a job as a pianist on a cross Atlantic cruise ship. For her this is a chance to perform again, but also the start of a new chapter in her life as she makes the momentous decision to request her records from social services, determined to try and find out what happened to her sister. It is the start of an emotional journey for both character and reader, one full of surprises, heart wrenching scenes and ultimately full of hope.
The opening of the book is told from Heather’s point of view. Moving back and forth in time between her present and memories of her childhood, we begin to build a very vivid picture of the tragic events of the past and how they have come to inform the present. The scenes from the past bring forth a whole host of emotions, from laughter to tears, the bittersweet memories of a mother who was adored and a father who was feared, really drawing me into the story. It’s a very familiar story, one in which you cannot help but feel for the two children caught up in the tension, but from which we are given some respite in the moments that the two girls, Heather and her little sister, Harriet, start to learn to play the piano. It is their respite, their secret, and it is in these scenes we see the two girls blossom, and where I felt a stronger connection to Heather. The Heather of the present is quiet, cautious and clearly affected by her past, and Louise Beech has done a brilliant job in portraying her character in a believable way, one which elicits sympathy and understanding, an area of narrative that she particularly excels at.
When in the present, we experience Heather’s time on the cruise ship, of the joy and elation she feels from finally performing once again. The friendships she builds and the power of the music to move and inspire not only her, but others really shines through, her bravery in playing a piece of music that has such an emotional impact upon her proving to be the turning point in her journey. It leads us into the second part of the book, one in which much more of the children’s past is explained, and we come to understand the nature of the tragedy that broke up Heather’s family. I must admit that these chapters were not quite what I expected but no less emotive, fate intervening on more than one occasion to direct the course of Heather’s future.
I am a music lover, and I fully understand the power of the perfect combination of notes, and there is one recurring song, the eponymous, Nothing Else, that comes to resonate with more than just Heather. It is no wonder that there is a Spotify list to accompany the book, and I am sure this would make an intriguing audiobook because the only difficulty of reading a book about music is that you cannot always hear the song in your head. If you can’t tell your Chopin from your Schubert, or your Chopsticks from your tuning fork, the playlist will be invaluable.
As always the characters, both central to the story and those on the periphery, are perfectly portrayed, each one adding their own notes to the story and helping to generate moments of laughter, poignancy and even, at times, fear. As for the setting, whilst I have never been on a cruise -well I spent a couple of days on a junk boat on Halong Bay but it’s not the same – I had a real sense of place, a feeling of authenticity of the way in which Louise Beech has recreated life both above and below deck. I could picture the opulence of the passenger levels and the minimalism of the crew quarters so clearly, and I’m almost, almost, convinced I’d like to try a cruise myself.
The ending to the book is full of hope, the warmth of feeling that comes with new beginnings. Did I expect what came to pass? I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t, but then that’s not an issue and probably to be expected with this book. This is not a mystery, not something where you are waiting for the big reveal and preparing to be shocked by an explosive twist. This is a story of family, of belief and of second chances. Of the power of music to move and inspire and of the powerful bond of two sisters, even when separated by both time and space. You can tell that this was a very personal book for the author, and if you like a story which is driven by strong emotion, this could well be the book for you.
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.
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