It’s an absolute delight to be joining the blog tour today and sharing my review of Wild Spinning Girls by Carol Lovekin, and particularly so on the day of its release: published by Honno, one of my favourite small presses, this wonderful book is now available both as an e-book and paperback. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation and support.
And a particular thank you to Carol – I had the immense privilege (and a considerable amount of joy) of being an early reader, and I’ll admit it’s been sheer torture waiting for the opportunity to share my thoughts. Are you familiar with her other books? Let me share my passion. Her first published novel, Ghostbird, will always have a particularly special place in my heart – although I can still remember how hard I struggled to produce a review that went some way towards doing it justice (you’ll find that review here). And then came Snow Sisters – everything I’d ever wanted it to be, and another wrestle to find the right words for my review. And now, the third – and again I’m lost for words, for the very best of reasons…
Ida Llewellyn loses her job and her parents in the space of a few weeks and, thrown completely off course, she sets off to Wales to the house her father has left her. But Heather, the young woman still in her teens whose home it was, keeps the house as a shrine to her late mother and is determined to scare Ida away. The two girls battle with suspicion and fear before discovering that the secrets harboured by their thoughtless parents have grown rotten with time, and that any ghosts Ty’r Cwmwl harbours are of their own making. Their broken hearts will only mend once they cast off the house and its history, and let go of the keepsakes that they treasure like childhood dreams.
Maybe I should begin by telling you a little about the story. It’s a present day one, as Ida travels to Ty’r Cwmwl – the Welsh house where she was born, and where her mother was singularly unhappy – after the loss of her parents, planning (perhaps) to prepare it for the market. But it then becomes a rather more timeless story, as she encounters Heather – the daughter of the previous tenant, still treating the house as her own, coming and going as she pleases, and we begin to explore the mysteries of the past. Goodness, that’s a dreadfully bare outline though, and doesn’t begin to touch on the magic of this book.
At its heart is a quite extraordinary portrayal of grief, loss and emptiness: Ida’s relationship with her parents was particularly complex, littered with thwarted dreams and expectations, shrouded in secrets. Her relationship with her mother perhaps has particular significance, and through Heather’s story the complex realms of the mother-daughter relationship are further explored, along with the whole concept of belonging.
The way the characters are drawn is absolutely stunning. There’s Ida’s self-conscious awkwardness and abrasiveness, and the way her relationship with Heather develops – the attraction, the fracturing, the reaching out and the pushing away – becomes a fascinating dance, entirely enthralling to watch. Their responses to their personal loss are so very different, Heather gaining strength, Ida losing any she may have had. And there’s a real fierceness to it all. I say “watch”, but it’s considerably more than that – it’s a relationship you become part of, that you experience and feel. Their interactions have such raw edges that you hurt for them both: their connections are so intimate that you feel you really shouldn’t be a party to them.
And then, there’s the magic. And, just for the moment, I’m not referring to the heady writing with its every carefully chosen word and image: if you’ve read the author’s other books, that won’t come as any surprise. Ty’r Cwmwl itself, and its surroundings, are part of an intensely atmospheric and vivid world of the author’s creation. There’s a wealth of detail bringing the setting to life – the neglected interior, the defective radiator, the issues with water supply and electricity. And then there’s the inexplicable, the shades from the past, the way the characters’ maelstrom of emotions is reflected and captured through the imagery drawn from the natural world. Just sometimes, events and experiences are rationally explained – sometimes they aren’t. Perhaps the image most indelibly seared in my memory is the candle in the bedroom window, perhaps a symbol of glimmering hope, simple and stark – but there’s also the all-pervading and disturbing turbulence, the stopped clocks, the ballet shoes, and, of course, the threatening and ever-present birds.
The author books have always featured strong women, and Ida’s new relationships are something else I very much enjoyed. Both Roni and Lowri play a significant part in providing hope, support and strength to a struggling Ida – they also provide another dimension to the story, and to some degree ground it in the real world in a way I particularly welcomed. And I also really enjoyed the mystery at the story’s centre, the unexpected revelations and family secrets uncovered, the flaws laid bare, providing a strong narrative drive to complement the haunting ambience and the emotional journey.
But the one thing I’m trying – and singularly failing – to convey is how very much I loved this book. The writing is quite sublime, apparently effortless – there’s a delicious darkness about it, but also a lightness that makes your heart sing, and there’s a final note of hope that will long remain. I really should have highlighted some passages that I could share, but I didn’t – instead, I was entirely immersed in the writing, and the way I responded to it at every level. Please, just read this one – it’ll be a decision you won’t regret for an instant.
“In Wild Spinning Girls, Carol Lovekin takes the modern world and tilts it fairytale-wise (and not for the first time). She is a natural storyteller, weaving words of wisdom and wonder. I soon felt myself sitting with the author as her story unfolded, so effortless did it seem. More folkloric than fantastical, this is a timeless tale of grief and belonging. The ties between mothers and their daughters unfurl with particular sensitivity, and come alive with a wild old magic. I tried to spin the book out as long as possible, but Ms Lovekin makes that hard! Haunting and hopeful and highly recommended.” Mags Phelan Stones
“As Ida says within the pages, ‘It’s like living in a Bronte novel.’ And it is. This book is stunning. Haunting. There are ghosts at the window. There is wild weather. There are lost dreams and found people. There is Cloud House, with stopped clocks and secret bureaus and all the answers. ‘You don’t mess with witches.’ Maybe not, but it makes for a heck of a yarn if you do. Wild Spinning Girls has all the Welsh magic you’ll find in the land’s poetry and music. Just beautiful and utterly unforgettable.” Louise Beech
About the author
Carol Lovekin is the author of three novels published by Honno, the Welsh Women’s Press. She writes about mother/daughter relationships, family dynamics & her stories are rooted in the Welsh landscape. They touch on the Welsh Gothic & its most powerful motif: the ghost.
Her first novel, Ghostbird (2016) was a Waterstones Wales and Welsh Independent Bookshops Book of the Month, a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2016 & in the same year was longlisted for the Not the Booker Prize. Snow Sisters (2017), her second novel, was chosen by the Welsh Books Council as their October Book of the Month (for independent shops.) Her third novel, Wild Spinning Girls is published today.