I’m getting into the swing of regular book reviews – here is this week’s offering!
I was fortunate to be given a copy of this book via The Book Club on Facebook in exchange for a fair and honest review.
In her own mind Cheryl West tried really hard to be a good wife and mother, but it just didn’t work out. For Cheryl there was always something missing and when her children (Elaine, Michael, Stephen and little Juliet) grew beyond the baby years, they lost their appeal and maybe her husband and then her boyfriend never had much appeal. But now she wants to be a different woman, a woman with a career and that takes her back to London leaving a family behind in Bournemouth. She becomes a worker in a drugs unit and there she experiences a side to life that is new to her as she speaks with clients and visits their homes. The reality of the decisions that they have made and the impact they have had upon others forces her to evaluate some of the decisions that she has made. This is coupled with the unwelcome visits paid to her by eldest daughter Elaine who only serves as a reminder of the life that she would like to forget.
The second family member who is key in this storyline is son Michael, who has had no contact with his mother, Cheryl, or other family members since walking out when just 16 years old. Whilst Michael is mentioned regularly in Cheryl’s story, mainly for the lack of contact and wondering what has become of him, the individual family members are mentioned rarely in Michael’s story. Ironically Michael’s life has also revolved around drugs as he has become an addict in his attempts to rid himself of memories of family life.
The mother and son “miss” each other by minutes in what could have been a chance meeting during a support worker visit from Cheryl to a client whilst in London. Their paths seem destined to cross again when Cheryl takes a new post in a rural drug rehabilitation unit in Hampshire where Michael has previously been a patient. Whilst Michael is trying to come to terms with the past in order to move on with a new chapter in his life, Cheryl finds some case notes that uncover secrets from that past life that she cannot accept.
I cannot sit here and yell from the roof tops that this book is an easy, enjoyable read because it is not. But this is not a criticism. Dysfunctional families and drug addiction should not be easy topics to write about or read about. The feelings of discomfort and at times disgust that the reader feels are testament to the powerful writing of Kate Rigby. She writes a novel that uses language and scene setting that is not only gritty and realistic, but also shows the soft under belly of the human psyche and the fragility of life.
It is difficult to like Cheryl at times. She appears self centred and completely at odds with being a mother of four, yet she has her own addiction and that is to babies. The descriptions of her feelings towards tiny babies are quite unnerving, but even more upsetting are how she views her own infants as they start to grow. How much of the family’s past issues have been a direct consequence of Cheryl’s actions? Even her response to certain actions by her husband (no spoilers!) has probably had a huge impact on certain family members. Her chosen career as a drugs rehabilitation support worker seems completely at odds with her character and some of the thoughts that she has and her actions demonstrate her to be ill suited to the job. Yet she skilfully manipulates her colleagues in both London and Hampshire to believe that she is doing a wonderful job and that she believes in what she is doing. Her selfish ways remain even when she does realise that Michael has been a client, with her first thoughts for herself and how his “stories” might affect her.
Meanwhile Michael shows himself to have backbone and courage, even when in the depths of addiction and despair. I find it interesting that it is the addict who I felt the empathy toward even as his life spiralled. There are glimpses of Michael’s loving side early on as he firstly develops a relationship with Nicky, and then with his dog Woodstock. He has no idea that whilst he physically removed himself from her, his life is still winding around his mother’s like a plant shoot binding around the main plant stem. The way in which Ms Rigby writes leads the reader to feel that much of this confused young man’s angst is as a direct result of his mother’s actions in the past. In his mind she favoured his younger brother and nothing that he did was good enough. The reality is probably more that Cheryl was only ever truly able to relate to new-borns and that she struggled with his close relationship with his father.
However, this father /son relationship is another area so well described from the tension of making contact after years apart, the difficulties of acknowledging just what the relationship was in the past and a way forward for both men now. Ms Rigby carefully and cleverly incorporates the different back stories from the individual family members into a tapestry that makes a whole. The reader learns to care about the characters and becomes invested in their stories.
The language and description of life for the various different drug addicts within the story add both colour and steel to the tapestry. The harsh truths of the impact that drugs have on both individuals and the family are not sugar coated in this novel. The author shows that drugs can be found in the midst of any family from any walk of life and that the devastation of lies, deceit and thieving is far reaching. I include in this the street families that many of the addicts in this find themselves a part of.
Abandonment, selfishness, dysfunctionality, abuse, addiction, love, relationships…..all huge topics that this book throws at the reader. I applaud the author for not tying up the storylines as it would have been very easy to do so – although she did leave me very frustrated as I want to know what happens! But this is about real life and we all know that not everyone lives happily ever after. In my humble opinion a fantastic study of human life. 5 stars
Find out more:
About the Author (from the author’s Amazon page)
Kate Rigby has been writing for several decades. She realized her unhip credentials were mounting so decided to write about it.
However she’s not completely unhip. Her punk novel, Fall Of The Flamingo Circus was published by Allison & Busby (1990) and by Villard (American hardback 1990). Skrev Press published her novels Seaview Terrace (2003) Sucka! (2004) and Break Point (2006) and other shorter work has appeared in Skrev’s avant garde magazine Texts’ Bones including a version of her satirical novella Lost The Plot.
Thalidomide Kid was published by Bewrite Books (2007).
Her book Little Guide to Unhip was published by Night Publishing (2010).
She has had other short stories published and shortlisted including Hard Workers and Headboards, first published in The Diva Book of Short Stories and also as part of the Dancing In The Dark erotic anthology (Pfoxmoor 2011).
She also received a Southern Arts bursary for her novel Where A Shadow Played (now ‘Did You Whisper Back?’).
Titles now available on Kindle and other e-books are:
Little Guide to Unhip (also in paperback*)
Far Cry From The Turquoise Room (also in paperback*)
Suckers n Scallies
Down The Tubes (also in paperback*)
Tales By Kindlelight (available as a collection – She Looks Pale & Other Stories*)
Savage To Savvy (also available in paperback*)
Did You Whisper Back?
Fall Of The Flamingo Circus
She Looks Pale (available as a collection – She Looks Pale & Other Stories*)
The Dead Club (also available in paperback*)
Fruit Woman (coming soon in paperback)
On Your Half Century
* paperbacks available by following the Amazon link where listed
Details about Kate’s work can be found at her website:
Or her occasional blogs can be found at: