Thanks to Net Galley and to the publishers for providing me a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
I read Virginia Macgregor’s first novel What Milo Saw a few months back and loved it. I loved the warmth of it, the wonderful characters, the sense of community, the quirky story, and the wonderful boy at the centre of it, Milo. When I published the review in my blog, it was very well received, and in fact one of my followers not only loved the novel too, but discovered a personal connection to the author. Of course I could not resist getting this book when I saw it in Net Galley.
And boy, am I pleased I got it. I’ve loved it possibly even more than the first one. Willa, the little girl who is the heart and soul of this story, is wonderful. She is not as prescient as Milo was, but she is all heart. She loves animals, Louie, the dog, the foxes only she seems to see (she’s obsessed with Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox and the movie of the same title), her parents (although she later discovers that Mummy Fay is not her real mother), her sister Ella, the twin ladies who live opposite, with their Chihuahuas, and everybody else. Her birthday is coming up and she knows Mrs Fox is due to have baby foxes and she’s excited. What nobody is prepared for is the return of Norah, her biological mother who up and went six years ago, and the maelstrom this causes. Norah’s best friend, Fay, and her complete opposite, stepped in when she left and took care of her family, becoming the mother (although Ella always resented her and started a campaign to find her mother, believing she’d been abducted). Norah’s return upsets the new family the ones left behind had created in her absence, and the secrets and lies threaten to break the hearts of all involved.
The novel made me think of an author I’ve read a few books by, Hans Hirschi, who wears with pride the accolade one of his reviewers gave him of ‘the queen of unconventional happy endings’. After reading this novel, I feel Virginia Macgregor deserves to be known as the queen of unconventional extended families. This novel is more insular than the previous one, and although the outside world intrudes (sometimes very forcefully) into the story, this is mostly incidental, and the action takes place around the family, and those adopted into it, like the neighbours, Ella’s Twitter followers, Fay, the members of the family Norah unveils, Sai (Ella’s boyfriend) and his wonderful mother. Willa wants everybody to be happy and live in the same house, and eventually, tolerance, understanding and love spreads to all who come into contact with her and her family.
Macgregor writes beautifully, perfectly capturing the thoughts and voices (the story is told in third person but from the point of view of the different characters) of younger and older characters, and even the dog (that Willa feels a particular connection to). [Although Louie is completely different, the use of the pet as one of the consciousness and narrators of the story reminded me of another great novel, Atonement, Tennessee by Teagan Geneviene, where Lilith, the cat, observes and sees things the rest of the characters don’t.] We might agree or not with the actions and reactions of the people in the novel, but they all feel real, and we come to care deeply for all of them. The plot deals with themes such as abandonment, family relationships, prejudice, creativity, spirituality, cancer, grief and death, subjectively and sensitively. Yes, I did cry at times and laughed at times. And I thoroughly enjoyed it.
If the roof of the house is in need of repair throughout the novel and storms keep threatening the house (illustrating in a very plastic and visual way the emotions of those living inside) the ending is heart-warming and hopeful.
This is a novel that will pull at your heartstrings and will make you fall in love with stories and reading. Although it’s very early in the year, I suspect this will remain one of my favourite novels of 2016. Go and read it!