As I enjoyed Ghostbird so much, and a paperback was sent to me from the author as part of the Writers For Grenfell fundraiser earlier this year, I thought I’d review it on my blog.
Honno Welsh Women’s Press (17 Mar. 2016)
Someone needs to be forgiven. Someone needs to forgive.
‘Charming, quirky, magical’ Joanne Harris
Nothing hurts like not knowing who you are.
Nobody will tell Cadi anything about her father and her sister. Her mother Violet believes she can only cope with the past by never talking about it. Lili, Cadi’s aunt, is stuck in the middle, bound by a promise she shouldn’t have made. But this summer, Cadi is determined to find out the truth.
In a world of hauntings and magic, in a village where it rains throughout August, as Cadi starts on her search, the secrets and the ghosts begin to wake up. None of the Hopkins women will be able to escape them.
I put this book down for a bit at the first mention of ghosts – I know, I could have guessed there might be one from the title – as things were getting creepy. Once I restarted (when no longer alone in the house), Ghostbird took me over… in a good way. There’s a blend of mystery, coming of age, quest, family secrets, magic realism and the supernatural here, all of which make for an original and surprising novel.
I fell in love with the writing – the prose is wonderfully crafted, especially when describing the natural world, always with great attention to the sound of language. There are so many amazing sentences it’s almost impossible to pick just one. The dialogue is excellent too; it captures personalities and feels authentic, and is never superfluous.
While the novel contains considerable darkness, delicious moments of low-key humour and non-realism keep the tone upbeat, if not bright. The rain, part of the ‘old wisdom’ of the village, appears so often it is like another character.
“From the first day of August until the last, it rained at least once a day in the village. When the sun broke through, people caught their breath, marvelled at the glimmer turning raindrops to treasure.”
So, to the plot. After she meets a mysterious newly arrived man in her village, 14-year-old Cadi decides she is going to find out the truth about the circumstances of her father’s and sister’s deaths, despite opposition from her emotionally absent, grief-stricken mother Violet and her white-witch lesbian aunt, Lili, Violet’s sister. Cadi also has to contend with the childlike ghost that appears one day by the local late, where years ago her sister drowned as a small child. As she becomes more estranged from her mother, who resists Cadi’s questions, Cadi is drawn to seek out the mysterious apparition…
Ok, this might sound like the start of a horror story but it definitely isn’t one. Moments of spookiness recur but they won’t freak you out 🙂
The novel is told from the alternating points of view of the main characters. Lili is a strong, compassionate woman who is torn by the duty she feels to her sister to keep a promise and the urge to reveal the truth to Cadi. For me she was the most interesting character, with her spells and green fingers and disregard for what the villagers may be saying about her.
“Witch women, even sensible ones, are usually watched by somebody.”
Fearless, feisty Cadi is also engaging and easy to root for; she can no longer put up with being excluded from the secrets of adults, and strives to find out about her lost sister. In contrast, Violet is fearful and anxious, and in her mental pain after the death of her first child and husband has shut herself off from her surviving daughter. She is difficult to like but well portrayed. As the story develops, we learn how she has come to be as she is, and start to see her differently.
I loved how the characters and their lives are grounded in the setting, a Welsh village that feels very real, with the usual busybodies, loners, newcomers, etc – and where it rains everyday in August! Woven into the novel’s backdrop are local folklore and ancient tales, in particular the story of Blodeuwedd, the girl created from flowers in The Mabinogion.
Blodeuwedd features in The Owl Service by Alan Garner, a book I greatly enjoyed for its originality and strangeness. Ghostbird also evokes an unsettling atmosphere and is infused with paranormal/fantastic elements.
‘Wild magic loitered in lanes, cunning as magpies. If it danced by the door, the village knew the wisest move was to drop the latch. Myths were entwined with reality as tightly as the honeysuckle around the cottage doors.’
The realistic dynamics of families, relationships and communities are very much to the fore, however. As the relationships between Cadi, and her mother and aunt are threatened by Cadi’s quest for the truth, I was compelled to read on to find out how what happens to them.
The ending, though not unexpected in some ways, has a satisfying emotional resolution and one memorably strange, magical moment.
This is a novel for women of a range of ages, about girls/women, in the main. There are significant male characters but they are less prominent. At its heart, it is about how tragedy can destroy families and the power of love, friendship and forgiveness. I’d highly recommend Ghostbird if you enjoy reading something refreshingly different and gorgeously written. Ms Lovekin’s next novel Snow Sisters is out now, I hear. I can’t wait to get my hands on it.
Carol is a writer, feminist and flâneuse. Her home is in beautiful West Wales, a place whose legends and landscape inform her writing. She writes contemporary fiction threaded with elements of magic.
Her second book, SNOW SISTERS, was published on 21 September, 2017 by Honno, the Welsh Women’s Press. It has been chosen by the Welsh Books Council as their October Book of the Month (for independent shops.)
GHOSTBIRD, her first novel, was published in March 2016. The book was chosen as Waterstones Wales and Welsh Independent Bookshops ‘Book Of The Month’ for April 2016. It was longlisted for the Guardian ‘Not the Booker’ prize 2016 and nominated for the Guardian Readers’ Book of the Year 2016.