The Doll Funeral
by Kate Hamer
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Melville House (August 15, 2017)
“[Evokes] both Jeanette Winterson and Ian McEwan . . . an elegiac and uplifting novel about the indissoluble bonds between mothers and daughters, and a reminder of how the imagination can set you free.” — The Guardian
On Ruby’s thirteenth birthday, a wish she didn’t even know she had suddenly comes true: the couple who raised her aren’t her parents at all. Her real mother and father are out there somewhere, and Ruby becomes determined to find them.
Venturing into the forest with nothing but a suitcase and the company of her only true friend—the imaginary Shadow Boy—Ruby discovers a group of siblings who live alone in the woods. The children take her in, and while they offer the closest Ruby’s ever had to a family, Ruby begins to suspect that they might need her even more than she needs them. And it’s not always clear what’s real and what’s not—or who’s trying to help her and who might be a threat.
Told from shifting timelines, and the alternating perspectives of teenage Ruby; her mother, Anna; and even the Shadow Boy, The Doll Funeral is a dazzling follow-up to Kate Hamer’s breakout debut, The Girl in the Red Coat, and a gripping, exquisitely mysterious novel about the connections that remain after a family has been broken apart.
“[Hamer’s] fascination with the thresholds between childhood and adulthood, sanity and insanity, chosen and blood families, and her subtle understanding of the clean, often disturbing logic of childhood morality, evoke both Jeanette Winterson and Ian McEwan . . . This is an elegiac and uplifting novel about the indissoluble bonds between mothers and daughters and a reminder of how the imagination can set you free.” —Melanie McGrath, The Guardian
“I felt instantly protective of Ruby; the teenager with a secret so chilling I had to check the front door was locked. Hamer’s brilliant storytelling made me read on for fear Ruby’s fate depended on it.” —Anna Silverman Grazia
“Hamer’s ability to conjure an atmosphere is certainly powerful. Particularly resonant is her portrait of the beauty and menace of the Forest of Dean.” —Rebecca Nicholson, The Sunday Times
“What holds the novel together is the tremendous momentum of the story itself, which gathers pace with every page, hooking you into its strangeness and keeping you hooked to the very last word.” —Rebecca Abrams, Financial Times
I’d always been a scavenger of small things. The glittering dust mote I reached up and tried to grab. The layers of shadow in the corner like piled clothes on a chair. Sliding my hands under rugs for what might be living there. Grubbing in the dirt for treasure.
You’re like a Christmas cracker… No, don’t be offended. It’s just like you have a weird toy inside.
Not even her mother warned her properly about this. What was this conspiracy of silence among women when the subject came up? You knew by the way their eyes slid away from you there was something they weren’t telling. Now Anna knows what it is, she’s being initiated.
There were so many pale kids in the house I remembered it as a nest of worms.
My mother came. I tell myself now she might have died because of having me, but that’s not the same as being responsible for her death. It gives me a lightness of feeling knowing that and knowing how she loved me as best she could. After all, she came back for me… She still came for me, even though she was dead.
If like me, you read the author’s previous book, The Girl and the Red Coat, and had firmly set your mind to expect something similar with The Doll Funeral, I would advise you to stop that silly thought train right now, or you will be setting yourself up to be sadly disappointed and miss out on a gem of a tale. They are significantly different books, although both were extremely well-written and suspensefully eerie mysteries. Once I wrapped my head around my foolish misconception and freed myself of my errant assumptions and expectations, I enjoyed and appreciated The Doll Funeral for the exceptionally well-crafted and brilliant story it was. Written from a dual POV with two different timelines, the story was intriguing, heart-squeezing, and an engrossing page-turner. For the longest time, I could not decide if Ruby was gifted or crazy, or if the people she had befriended were alive or dead, or good or bad. The storyline occasionally seemed to toss in a few erratic threads, although those odd little nuggets ingeniously dovetailed back together to weave a surprisingly rich tapestry at the conclusion. Kate Hamer is a cunning and wily wordsmith.
KATE HAMER is the author of The Girl in the Red Coat, which was a Costa First Novel Award finalist, a Dagger Award finalist, an Amazon Best Book of the Year 2016, and a winner of the ELLE Lettres Readers’ Prize. She lives in Cardiff, Wales, with her husband and two children.