The Mountain in my Shoe
By Louise Beech
Published by Orenda Books (published 30 September 2016)
On the night Bernadette finally has the courage to tell her domineering husband that she's leaving, he doesn't come home. Neither does Conor, the little boy she's befriended for the past five years. Also missing is his lifebook, the only thing that holds the answers. With the help of Conor's foster mum, Bernadette must face her own past, her husband's secrets and a future she never dared imagine in order to find them all.
You know when you love a book so much that you don't want it to end - yet you are compelled to keep on reading? And you know when you find a book that you'll read again and again? Well, The Mountain in my Shoe is definitely one of those books for me.
I loved Louise Beech's first book, How to be Brave - it was my favourite read of 2015. So a small part of me was worried that I wouldn't like her second book quite as much. But my fears were totally unfounded. The Mountain in my Shoe captured my heart from the outset, with its beautiful writing (yet again) and another intriguing, emotional plot.
The Mountain in my Shoe is very different from How to Be Brave, proving Louise Beech's versatility as a writer. This is a gripping psychological thriller, with a missing child, missing book and missing husband at its centre. Yet this powerful novel is also about so much more than this. A sense of belonging. Knowing where you come from and where you're going to. Needing a sense of security. Being surrounded by people who care and love you, no matter what.
There are two main intertwined threads, told from the point of view of Bernadette, an abused wife who is ready to leave her husband yet has nowhere to go, and by Conor, a young boy living his whole life in the care system. Conor's mother is unable to look after him, his father unknown, and he has been passed from one carer to another since birth. His fascination with boxing legend Mohammed Ali provides the backdrop to the story - and helps to give the book its name.
Although not a 'character', Conor's 'Lifebook' plays a key role in the story too. The Mountain in my Shoe contains notes, letters and extracts of reports from the moment Conor was born, with contributions from social workers, carers and other key figures in his life. It provides a fascinating insight into his early experiences, the care system and all of the people who have shaped the baby into the boy he has become.
Louise Beech has a talent for getting right inside the heads and hearts of all of her characters, so you believe in them, root for them and feel for them. Conor is naive and vulnerable in some ways, but wise and strong beyond his years in others. Bernadette's relationship with her controlling husband Richard, in particular, is dealt with sensitively, with his abusive tendencies and crucial events woven carefully into the plot. Every character, however minor, has an important place in this novel - the supporting cast leaves as much of an impression as the main characters themselves.
This is a fascinating page turner that wrenches at your insides. It's dark, compelling and highly thought provoking and left me with tears rolling down my cheeks. The story and characters will linger on long after you've finished reading the final page.
Another book that I'll be recommending to the world - repeatedly and relentlessly. I can't wait to see what Louise Beech comes up with next.
I received an Advanced Reader Copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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