Published by Legend Press
On a gloriously sunny weekday afternoon, I should have been: working on my own novel; reading a book on poetry; completing my lesson prep for teaching the following day. Instead, I was snuffling back tears, hurtling towards the end of this addictive debut.
‘At twenty-one, Tallulah Park lives alone in a grimy bedsit. There's a sink in her bedroom and a strange damp smell that means she wakes up wheezing. Then she gets the call that her father has had a heart attack. Years before, she was being tossed around her difficult family; a world of sniping aunts, precocious cousins, emigrant pianists and lots of gin, all presided over by an unconventional grandmother. But no one was answering Tallie's questions: why did Aunt Vivienne loathe Tallie's mother? Why is everyone making excuses for her absent father? Who was Uncle Jack and why would no one talk about him?
As Tallie grows up, she learns the hard way about damage and betrayal, that in the end, the worst betrayals are those we inflict on ourselves.’
Kat Gordon narrates relationships beautifully, telling: the gulf between child and adult understanding; friendships and first crushes; teacher-pupil relationships. She captures the myriad ways in which people struggle to be supportive or to gain power - a dichotomy at the heart of this novel. Her child and teenage characters are particularly good - she heartbreakingly draws the way emotions overwhelm and paralyse the body. Gordon captures the embarrassment of recall so well it makes for uncomfortable reading, and the development in character of Tallulah’s family members - reflecting her increasing understanding of them - is a wonderful feat.
The heart as metaphor; the body as metaphor. There’s nothing new in these ideas, but Gordon’s story-telling keeps the notion that ‘each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’ beating healthily, while forging such strong links to the world as we know it (certainly as Gordon’s and my generation grew up with it) that this particular, fascinatingly unhappy family is recognisably the reader’s, or their best friend’s, or their neighbour’s. They are other; they are us. The narrative reflects the plot’s increasing suspense as memories once related distinctly, with poise, and time for reflection, begin to tread on each other’s heels, interrupting the present with ever-greater frequency, battling for space in Tallulah’s mind, willing a conclusive answer to the swirling of her questions. To write with such plausibility that the reader doesn’t know yet has - with hindsight - always known what will happen, is a serious talent. The character of Mr Hicks is particularly fine, Gordon balancing her portrayal of the charismatic teacher with the precision of treading a deadly live wire.
She writes with compassion and acuity about inexperience and the wilful denial of gut feelings leading to terrible choices made. This is a compelling, moving family drama about the danger of silence and secrets, the dreadful failure of best intentions, and the fondness so often to be found at the centre - yes, the heart - of even the messiest of families.