A missing boy. A missing book. A missing husband. A woman who must find them all to find herself.
On the night Bernadette finally has the courage to tell her domineering husband that she's leaving, he doesn't come home. Neither does Conor, the little boy she's befriended for the past five years. Also missing is his lifebook, the only thing that holds the answers. With the help of Conor's foster mum, Bernadette must face her own past, her husband's secrets and a future she never dared imagine in order to find them all.
Exquisitely written and deeply touching, The Mountain in My Shoe is both a gripping psychological thriller and a powerful and emotive examination of the meaning of family ... and just how far we're willing to go for the people we love.
The Mountain in My Shoe by Louise Beech was published by Orenda Books on 30 September 2016 and is the author's second novel. I read and reviewed her first book, How To Be Brave back in September last year.
I really admired this author's writing in How To Be Brave, she has a delicate touch, yet her story telling is so incredibly strong. I hoped for the same with The Mountain in My Shoe.
Sometimes, and only sometimes, a book can touch the most hidden parts of the mind, evoking emotions and memories that may have been stored away for a long time. That is what happened when I read The Mountain in My Shoe.
I was overcome with an incredible feeling of familiarity whilst reading about Bernadette, Anne and Conor. Their story is set in and around Hull and Doncaster; places that I know very well, and Bernadette is a volunteer befriender, trained by a local charity and matched with young Conor - a boy who has spent most of his young life moving around from foster home to care home. I've done this too, I spent almost ten years working with looked-after children; first as a volunteer befriender and then as the scheme co-ordinator. Louise Beech has so skilfully and beautifully described the relationship between a volunteer and the young person, revealing the heartbreak but also the incredible bond that can be formed.
Billed as a 'psychological thriller', The Mountain in My Shoe is that, and so much more. It's a detailed and evocative story of relationships; how they are built and how they can break and how they can destroy those who are part of them.
Young Conor has been let down by those that should have cared most. Everyone who has ever cared for him have been paid to do so, until Bernadette became his volunteer. Their growing relationship is narrated individually by both of them, and also through the entries in Conor's Life Book. Using the Life Book to highlight the key points in his life is a magic touch, giving the reader far more insight into how he entered the system, and why he sometimes behaves in certain ways.
The plotting is so tight. Bernadette's husband Richard doesn't arrive home from work at his usual time. she's also misplaced Conor's Life Book, and then Conor's foster-mother Anne calls to say that he hasn't returned from school. Three seemingly unrelated incidents, but as the story unravels and Bernadette learns more about Richard, everything becomes closer and closer, until finally, each character and each incident is firmly knitted together.
Nestled within the story of Conor's life and the search for him and Richard, is the slow reveal of Bernardette's relationship with her husband. She begins to open her heart to Anne; to explain why she could only visit Conor on a Saturday when Richard was at work. Carefully and delicately dealt with, Louise Beech examines the intricacies of a marriage, and how the long-term acceptance by Bernadette of certain behaviours have shaped her character. These glimpses are done so elegantly, expertly handled by an author who shows real insight into troubled minds.
At its heart, The Mountain in My Shoe is a story of bravery, just like the author's first book. It is absolutely captivating with characters who are still living in my mind, and a plot that packs a very powerful punch. This is an absolute triumph. Brilliant.
My thanks to Orenda Books who sent my copy for review and invited me to take part in the blog tour.
Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Reader's Choice for 2015. She regularly writes travel pieces for the Hull Daily Mail, where was a columnist for ten years. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice and being published in a variety of UK magazines.
Louise lives with her husband and children on the outskirts of Hull - the UK's 2017 City of Culture - and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012.
She is also part of the Mums' Army on Lizzie and Carl's BBC Radio Humberside Breakfast Show.
The Mountain in My Shoe was longlisted for the 2016 Not The Booker Prize.
Follow her on Twitter @LouiseWriter