Thursday, 20 March 2014

The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss

I've had trouble writing this review. I kept coming back to it over the past week because I wasn't able to figure out what to say. It's a complex book with a not so happy topic, and I didn't want to write anything to make you think it's overly depressing and put you off reading it. In fact, I'll put the recommendation here first: read this book.

The Year of the Rat focuses on the first year after Pearl's mother dies in childbirth, but the baby (which Pearl henceforth calls the Rat) survives. Pearl and her step-father, who is the biological father of the Rat, are then left to deal with the situation: both grieving and taking care of a new baby.

While really it's no one's fault, it is a situation where one could easily place blame or feel guilt. Pearl, struggling with the loss of her mother, retreats into herself. Her best friend can't possibly understand, her step-father seems more concerned about his new child, and all Pearl can do is blame the Rat for causing the whole horrible mess. She seems to emotionally flit between different stages of grief depending on her situation: Pearl is clearly depressed, but she is also angry with her new sister to the point of such hatred that you begin to wonder if she'll ever warm to the baby.

What I loved most about this book is that while it was very much focused on an unhappy topic, it manages to maintain some humour. Despite her depression, Pearl can be funny in her own way. It really comes out during the exchanges she has/remembers with her mother. I think her mother's character is what makes this story, even though the story is clearly based around her absence, everyone else is focused on various traits of Pearl's mother as they begin to cope with her death.

As already mentioned, I highly recommend The Year of the Rat. This is a strong debut from a very talented author, looking at how people cope with grief and depression while life continues around them. It's an emotional but worthwhile journey complimented by superb writing.

The Year of the Rat publishes on 24th April by Simon & Schuster.

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