Review – Hush by Sarah Marshall-Ball

By | July 1, 2015

Haunting, mysterious and often shocking, Hush is the story of what happens when we find we cannot speak, even to those we love most. Lily Emmett has suffered from selective mutism since childhood and still struggles to see the value of everyday speech. Her sister, Connie, has always spoken for her, and her partner, Richard, has learnt to translate her movements so that they share a unique form of communication. 

But when the two sisters return to their childhood home after their mother’s death, the visit inspires memories of the event that first rendered Lily silent, and still haunts them both. The resulting search for the truth about what happened takes them back to a childhood shaped by bullying and familial breakdown, and unearths the secrets that lie at the heart of the sisters’ relationship.

Hush by Sarah Marshall-Ball was published on 25th June by Myriad Editions in paperback and for kindle. I had a quick look at both both Amazon and Goodreads before writing my review – it’s sometimes good to know you’re broadly in step with others – but couldn’t find a single review. Sometimes it’s rather good to feel you’ve discovered something a little special that you can tell others about.

I usually read pretty quickly, but this really isn’t a book to be rushed – it’s taken me a couple of days to read, and that’s an indication that this is a book to be savoured. It deals with what appears an unfamiliar subject in selective mutism as the result of a trauma, but it also has among its themes the more familiar ones of families and the secrets they keep, bullying and its consequences, nature and nurture, relationships and their many differing problems, and the healing power of love. 

The story is told in alternating chapters. “Then” takes us back to Lily and Connie’s childhood and the unspoken trauma that sees Lily unable or unwilling to speak, sent to live with her grandparents, shunted around medical professionals who fail to protect or help her. Connie meanwhile battles on – victimised brutally by her schoolmates because of her perceived wrongdoing, ignored by her cold mother, separated from her sister. “Now” takes us to the present day – Lily and Connie in adulthood, their relationships, their states of mind, their feelings towards their parents, their families, each other. 

If it’s not sounding particularly attractive from all that, I have to say it was a really compelling read with a disturbing edge of darkness. It was also quite beautifully written – poetic, emotionally authentic, with beautiful descriptions, and relationships described with absolute perfection. The relationship between Lily and Richard is mesmerising, the kind of love we should all experience – he even tells Lily bedtime stories, thoroughly beautiful ones that will break your heart. 

I really enjoyed this book – never simply a love story or a coming-of-age tale, certainly not the “beach read” of its marketing (sorry Myriad!) and not a thriller in any conventional sense, but a book I’m delighted I had the opportunity to read. 

My thanks to publishers Myriad Editions for my paperback copy.

Sara Marshall-Ball spent her formative years in Cambridge. She studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Derby before moving to Brighton in 2007. She worked as a proofreader of gravestones to support herself through her MA in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of Sussex, during which she wrote much of her debut novel Hush. The novel was shortlisted for Myriad’s Writer’s Retreat Competition in 2012. Sara Marshall-Ball currently works as an insurance claims assessor.