It’s a real pleasure today to be joining the blog tour for The Storytellers, the debut novel from Caron McKinlay, and to share my review: published by Bloodhound Books on 16th May, it’s now available as an e-book and in paperback. My thanks to Kelly at Love Books Tours for the invitation and support, and to the author for my advance reading copy.
Just this once, this was a book I’d planned to review before Kelly got in touch. Caron e-mailed me back in September last year, asking if I’d consider reading and reviewing – and I’ll admit that I initially thought it looked rather too different from my usual reading. But I was intrigued, and went in search of more information – and over on THEBookClub, I found that both Tracy Fenton and Paul Swallow thought this book was something rather special, and also read the really lovely story about how Caron had found her agent. Comparisons with Stuart Turton’s writing still worried me a little – just between us, I’ll admit I haven’t entirely got on with his books. But then the early reviews started to appear, every one of them glowing and enthusiastic – and when my time to read approached, I was really rather looking forward to it…
Trapped between life and the afterlife, three women meet and share their stories while discovering the truth about the men in their lives—and about themselves.
Suspended in an eerie state of limbo, an entity called the Gatekeeper tells Nikki, Ronnie, and Mrs. Hawthorne they are on the cusp of entering the afterlife—but only if the women can persuade him that in their earthly lives, they knew the meaning of love.
Fragments of their memories return, plunging them back into their pasts, and forcing them to face the desires, disappointments, addictions, lies, and obsessions they battled in life.
But before time runs out, will they find the answer to the ultimate question: what is love?
I was expecting fantasy – but although the book opens with three women on a beach, facing the gatekeeper on the fringes of the afterlife, only able to move on when they’ve satisfied him that they’ve learned the true meaning of love, this book turned out to be something entirely different. In their own clear and distinctive voices, the three women revisit their lives, lingering over their choices and the mistakes they made – and I found the whole concept quite fascinating, totally compelling and highly original.
Nikki is only 18 – insecure, overweight, desperate to find love, and she does with charismatic Italian Gio, moving to a new life in Sicily that fails to deliver the romantic idyll and happy life she’d been yearning for. Ronnie is a headmistress, strong and confident (and distinctly abrasive at times) – but if she’s firmly in control of her professional life, she struggles rather more at a personal level. Her relationship with Graham – a sex addict – seems doomed to failure and disappointment, but she’s willing to do anything (really… anything!) to win her prize. Mrs Hawthorne has met Charles, a lovely widower who has all the qualities to make him “the one” – other than the fact that he’s entirely unable to move on from the largely idealised former love of his life.
The writing is simply wonderful – filled with dark humour, pithy observation, and a great deal of poignancy – and with short chapters that keep the pages turning I became entirely caught up in the complicated lives of the three women, willing them on at every obstacle. There’s a distinctly feminist theme – although the men in their lives are superbly drawn, it’s the decisions the women make that drive the story forward – and their personal journeys grip you from the start as they each find a place in your heart. It’s emotionally compelling, thought provoking, entirely involving, unlike anything I’ve read before – and, I have to say, a really stunning and addictive read at so many levels. At times, their bad behaviour really does make you want to look away – but you soon find that’s quite impossible.
Yes, there are fantasy elements – and developments later in the book that you certainly won’t be expecting – but this really is women’s fiction at its very best, and the whole book a quite remarkable achievement for a debut author. I absolutely loved it – and I’d recommend it really highly.
“Darkly funny and completely compelling, with brilliantly flawed characters you can’t help rooting for, even when they’re bad.” – Frances Quinn, author of The Smallest Man
‘Utterly mind-blowing! If Stuart Turton had written Gone Girl it would look like this. Intelligent, compelling writing that is genre-defining. Brilliant!’- Victoria Dowd – The Supper Club Murders
‘Fascinating and compelling. Feminist themes here, which I loved, and a brilliant mystery, and best of all, some highly skilled storytelling.’ – Laura Pearson
About the author
Caron grew up in a mining town on the east coast of Scotland where her dad would return from the pit and fill her life with his tall tales. She never thought about making a career in writing – that was what posh people did, not someone from a working-class council estate.
However, her father’s death was the cause of deep introspection and her emotions gave birth to a short story, Cash, which was published in the Scottish Book Trust’s anthology, Blether. This gave her the confidence to try and believe in herself.
When not blogging, reading, and writing, Caron spends her time with her daughters. She doesn’t enjoy exercise – but loves running around after her grandsons, Lyle and Noah, to whom she is devoted.
Caron had three childhood dreams in life: to become a published author, to become a teacher, and for David Essex to fall in love with her. Two out of three ain’t bad, and she’s delighted with that