This book smells

A review of ‘Maria in the moon’ by Louise Beech

This is the third novel I have read by Louise, and each one underlines my belief in her as a truly exceptional writer. This book, however, should come with a health warning. It smells! It smells of houses drying out after the floodwaters have receded. It smells of uncomfortable childhood memories -lingering like the whiff of mothballs at the back of an old cupboard. It smells of smoke and coffee and perspiration with just a hint of despair. Above all, though, it smells of humanity.

Louise has a singular talent for depicting even the most unsympathetic character with enough sympathy to engage our attention. She never excuses cruelty or unkindness or selfishness, but she gives us pause to see the person displaying it so that we are less inclined to dismiss them with a self-righteous ‘tut’. Not only that, but for the characters who are more central to the book, there is a real love. To these characters, Louise is Geppetto to Pinocchio – depicting them with such warmth yet still almost bemused when they spring to life. I am still not sure whether this is Louise or one of her characters talking:

It occurred to me that we are all perfect in our imperfections, unique in our failings

When Louise talks about the most flawless love of all towards the end of the book she does so without a hint of idealism, but rather with a deep sense of realism. The smell of humanity is here and it draws us in. Years ago the staff trying to end a prison riot did so by wafting the smell of frying bacon and onions across the barricade. In the end it had more effect than many other approaches – smell can be so evocative.  Breathe deeply of Maria in the Moon and you will not be disappointed.

The book has humour, humanity and intrigue in abundance.  It also has a Christmas tree with the kind of decorations you are unlikely ever to find on mine, but you’ll have to read the book to find out what I mean!maria

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