It’s a real pleasure today to be joining the blog tour for The Girl in the Maze by debut novelist Cathy Hayward, and to share my review. Published by Agora Books on 28th October, it’s now available for kindle, with the paperback to follow soon. My thanks to Peyton Stableford at Agora for the invitation and support, and also for providing my advance reading copy (via netgalley). It’s the second week of the blog tour, and I’ve already seen some of the most wonderful reviews – and I must say that this book really appealed to me from the moment Peyton first told me about it…
‘I would caution you against delving into the past. The past is often best left exactly where it is.’
Emma Bowen has never had a close relationship with her mother, barely speaking with her in the last years of her life. But after her mother’s death, Emma finds something that might just explain the distance between them.
Discovering letters between her mother and grandmother, it seems to Emma that her mother has always been difficult.
As she searches for answers about her own childhood, Emma is drawn into the mystery of her mother’s enigmatic life. The more she finds, the more lost she feels, but Emma is determined to uncover her mother’s past, and the secrets held within it, whatever the cost.
An enthralling story of three women, generations apart, linked by one terrible tragedy.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever read a book with such a disturbing and emotional beginning, as we first meet Betty back in 1937 and are plunged into her world of pain and desperation. It’s a particularly brave decision for a debut novelist, with the real possibility that readers might choose not to read any further – but it’s only a taster for the stunning writing that follows.
This is the story of three women – Betty herself, her daughter Margaret, and Margaret’s daughter Emma in the present day. Margaret’s voice isn’t heard, but her life and the experiences that shaped her are very much the book’s focus. We join Emma as she’s clearing out her flat after her mother’s death – their relationship was never an easy one, and in the years beforehand they’d grown ever further apart and were rarely in contact any more. At her death, Margaret had very much put her affairs in order – with the assistance of her solicitor Graham Eals, who plainly has more knowledge of her life than he’s willing to reveal – and some of her decisions come as a considerable surprise. Finding a series of letters and the contents of a locked box, Emma begins a quest to discover her mother’s secrets, in an attempt to understand how they might have impacted their relationship and shaped her character.
This is a story about motherhood and the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship, and of the way events and choices in the past impact on the present, examined and exposed with exceptional emotional depth in their telling. Some of the secrets of the past are exceptionally difficult to read, raw and painful – reflected in the painting of the book’s title, the child in anguish trapped in the maze – and the author’s writing is strong and assured, making you feel every moment of hurt and despair at your core.
There’s a stark difference between Emma’s own relationship with her husband and children and the complexities of the relationships experienced by the two previous generations, set firmly in their historical context but with a stunning emotional touch. The narrative moves seamlessly backwards and forwards in time – its construction is so cleverly done, and apparently effortless, with its progress relentless and compelling. This is a book that really makes you feel – to hurt, sympathise, rage against the many injustices, weep at the behaviour of others. At times, it’s a difficult book to read, its darker moments almost overwhelming in their intensity – but I found it quite impossible to set it aside, totally immersed in the lives of its characters.
I’ll struggle to forget this book – entirely stunning and original writing from an exceptionally gifted new author, and I recommend it without reservation.
About the author
Cathy Hayward trained as a journalist and edited a variety of trade publications, several of which were so niche they were featured on Have I Got News for You. She then moved into the world of PR and set up an award-winning communications agency. Devastated and inspired in equal measure by the death of her parents in quick succession, Cathy completed The Creative Writing Programme with New Writing South out of which emerged her debut novel The Girl in the Maze about the experience of mothering and being mothered. It won Agora Books’ Lost the Plot Work in Progress Prize 2020 and was longlisted for the Grindstone Literary Prize 2020.
When she’s not writing (or reading) in her local library, Cathy loves pottering in second-hand bookshops, hiking and wild camping. She lives in Brighton – sandwiched between the Downs and the sea – with her husband, three children, and two rescue cats – one of whom thinks he’s a dog.