This book was one of those recommended by a friend last year and so was also in my TBR challenge. My friend‘s recommendations I trust. This particular friend has recommended about half a dozen books to me and every one has been A+ so I was fairly sure this would be a good read.
What a treat this was.
Ruby’s Spoon is set in the Black Country, England, in the 1930s. To you from other climes do not let its English locale put you off. This is a story that could be placed in many divers’ places. The use of dialect has added to the atmosphere helping to paint a graphic picture of life in a particular location and a particular time. Pietroni has taken great pains to make it easy to decipher.
As a writer myself I found the fact that this was Pietroni’s debut novel a trifle depressing – it is so good, so complex and the language hauntingly beautiful. Anna Lawrence Pietroni has conjured up a claustrophobia and bleakness that is atmospheric enough to swirl fog like off the page.
With detailed care she has created a collection of strangely beguiling characters, all complete with secrets, habits, histories and prejudices which will be stirred into a cauldron of mischief.
Although an apparently simple tale of a young girl dreaming of escape from a drear and claustrophobic situation, Pietroni has managed to fold the story into so many layers it’s a treat to settle down and begin carefully unfolding and smoothing each subtle wrap.
Into hard grim lives, still traumatised by losses in the First World War and going down under the Depression that lies heavily across the fishing and the button factory, the two mainstays of the community, this is a community poised halfway between the old and new.
Rose feels trapped between the murky waters that wend through the landscapes and such is the writing the odour from those waters can make you gag. She plans her escape route from dysfunctional family and neighbours, and the chance meeting of a stranger Isa Fly opens up a new possibility. Be-friending Isa Fly Rose believes she has an accomplice whom she hopes will help her to achieve her aim.
However this is an isolated and closed community with strong links still to more ancient beliefs. The outsider, Isa, the stranger, becomes a scapegoat for all the ills that beset the community. Talk of witchcraft and spells soon creep through the watery mists. There is a fairy tale element, but not of the Disney ilk. This is fairy work, old style, deadly and untrustworthy. Many of the old themes weave their way through this narrative; mermaids, curses, myths and mysteries.
Ruby struggles through dark secrets and traditions. Through the superstitions of the older generations, as she finds herself drawn down dangerous paths. Ruby falls into danger as she struggles to save herself and her dreams, while attempting to save Isa and to reconcile the past and present.
What lifts this story from its ‘grim up north’ genre is the misty and dreamlike quality of the writing.
Anna Lawrence Pietroni has written an original novel in Ruby’s Spoon and I am looking forward very much to reading more from her.