"I wonder today how no one else could see the bad thing coming. Not that I knew back then what the bad thing was; and if I had - if I'd known one of us was going to die - would there have been anything I could have done to prevent it? I play back in my mind, over and over. The clues were all there."These are the words of eleven-year-old Ruth, the narrator of The Story of Before. Ruth and her family have just moved into their new Dublin home, away from the house that her Daddy grew up in which became too small for them when baby Kevin was born. Kevin arrived early, on the day that they moved to the new house, he lived there for all of his life.
Ruth can often tell that something is going to happen, just little things usually, but this time things feel different; whatever is going to happen is going to change their lives, but Ruth doesn't know yet what it will be.
Susan Stairs has created an extraordinary voice in Ruth, she narrates this story with the innocence of a child, but the insight of someone so much older. The sense of both the 70s era and the insular neighbourhood of the Dublin suburb are beautifully observed, the reader is transported smack bang into times when children had more freedom, the summer was long and hot and parents didn't have to worry.
Although this is a story of heartbreak and tragedy and features much sadness and the problems that families tend to hide behind their front doors, it is also Ruth's story. Her family is strong, her parents love one another, her older siblings are close and Ruth feels a little left out. The arrival of baby brother Kevin, is a turning point for her, along with trying to fit into the already closely formed friendship groups on the new estate. Ruth makes many mistakes along the way. Choosing the wrong boy to befriend ultimately leads to the incident that will shape the family for ever more.
The Story of Before is an engrossing read that I really found difficult to put down. I found myself living Ruth's life for her and hoping against hope that her instinct that something bad would happen was wrong.
This is an outstanding debut from Susan Stairs that will keep the reader turning the pages late into the night.
The Story of Before was published by Atlantic Books on 4 June 2013 in trade paperback, it is also available as an ebook. My thanks to Corinna Zifko from the publisher for sending a copy for review.
Born in London, Susan Stairs has lived in Ireland since early childhood. Involved in the art business for many years, she has written extensively about Irish art and artists. She received an MA in Creative Writing from University College Dublin in 2009 and was shortlisted for the Davy Byrnes Writing Award in the same year. She lives in Dublin with her family. The Story of Before is her first novel.
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