On an ordinary Friday morning the lives of the residents at 77 Willoughby Street are shattered by the return of Norah Wells. The Mother Who Left six years earlier. She left baby Wilma and 8-year-old daughter Ella in the care of Adam, her husband. Inexplicably, unexpectedly she has come home.
Home however has changed dramatically from the chaos she left behind. Her best friend, Fay, also god-mother to Wilma, has stepped up, not only to help Adam with the children but gradually replacing her in his and at least one of the daughter’s lives.
Why did Norah leave? Why did she return? Where was she and with whom? What becomes of The Mother Who Stayed? Finally and most importantly, who is going to tell little Wilma that ‘Mummy’ is not her real mother?
This is an engaging, at times mystical, novel that unfolds through the various voices of the main characters. The nuances of each person are captured perfectly and are captivating despite being in third-person.
The children’s confusion, heart-ache, innocence is written in an almost fairy-tale style, often with short, staccato sentences, often with repetition. Whilst this quirky technique might not be to every reader’s taste I found it original and endearing.
The two daughters are at the core of the novel and their various reactions to Norah’s presence are the catalyst for the non-stop plot twists, action and emotional scenes.
Ella immediately won my sympathy with her naivety and trust in her mother. A mother she believed, despite evidence to the contrary, to have been kidnapped. As a result Ella set up a campaign to find her mother and her twitter feed on this cause is a perfect modern contrast to the rest of the book. Her twitter messages brings in various suggestions, help and a diverse array of character that interact well with Ella.
During the long period without her mother, Ella had modelled herself on Norah; adopting her lifestyle, her dress sense, her passion for running, learning to love jazz and like her musician mother, learning to play the trumpet. A mother Ella discovers had walked out on her of her on own free will.
As the truth is finally revealed Ella’s emotional centre is profoundly shaken. Only then does the reader gradually learn that the foundations of their previous life had been far from stable and rather that of a dysfunctional family full of secrets and despair.
Wilma is the light of this book; surrounded by a quasi-angelic, spiritual aura. Like Norah,she seems to hover between the real world and the spirit world and accompanying her across both is her best friend and pet dog, Louis. He immediately wins our affection and love – entrusted to look after Wilma whatever the price. His pivotal role in the novel is quietly reinforced throughout.
If having an animal in as a major element in a book sounds familiar, you might recall ‘Hamlet’ the pet pig from the wonderful ‘What Milo Saw’ also written by Virginia MacGregor.
I couldn’t wait to read her second novel and am pleased to say that it did not disappoint. Her writing has become more self-assured, with the story-line more complex and featuring a variety of adult voices.
Overall its feather light, surreal quality blends exquisitely with modern dilemmas and technology ensuring that this is ultimately an uplifting book. I was hooked from the start and I grabbed every free available moment to read on. I can highly recommend this book.
I received this Reader Copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a honest and impartial review.
Publisher: Little Brown Book
Group Release Date: 14th January 2016
Price: £ 14.99 (Hardback – Amazon)
£ 7.99 (Kindle – Amazon)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.