Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Tannery - BookReview

Article author: Alwyn Ash

Life for Dolly Ramsden, a six-year-old child, is never an easy one, but what does that matter, really matter, when she has the love of a mother and protection – and financial security - of her father?

Mr Ramsden works at the local tannery and Dolly shares a vision with her mother, one of travel and adventure. Life is good. But the arrival of war changes all of that, snatching away her comfort blanket and stealing her dreams.

With her father gone, joining the war effort in 1941, Dolly faces a world where her mother subsidizes rations by taking on cleaning jobs. One, in particular, helps out financially until a fateful day when Dolly is responsible for her mother losing work. We reach a moment when emotional changes occur - her mother slaps Dolly across the face, both taken aback by the actions of a desperate woman.

This is when the bitterness pours out, blackening everything around both mother and daughter, sending them along a spiralling path of uncertainty and despair.

The hard times that both face are clearly realised, as Hewson develops the story further. We are in 1943, and Dolly, now twelve, is taken out of school to help with house chores and other work. By this time her mother is clearly struggling to face reality and instead looks for answers at the bottom of a bottle. The washing that they collect from people in the neighbourhood certainly brings in some cash, never enough.

Dolly’s mother, increasingly out of control, her flirtatious ways evolving into a far darker affair - eventually turns to prostitution!

1945. The war ends. But Dolly’s nightmarish life refuses to close with it. At this point there has been no word from Mr Ramsden, nor any sign that he is still alive. Dolly is also worried that, if he does return home, the truth about his wife's sordid liaisons will break him. What might the neighbours, who are all too familiar with Mrs Ramsden’s many male visitors, tell him?

One fateful day Dolly’s father does return and, for the briefest of moments, life appears to be returning to some kind of normality. Her mother, who had lost pride in her appearance during his absence, begins making an effort to look good. The “visits” stop, and something resembling calmness casts a gentle hand around family life. Until Mr Ramsden announces that he has been re-employed at the Tannery...

Mrs Ramsden’s dislike for his job is well and truly realised from the start of the book, and news of him returning to that damn awful place acts like a flick of a switch, undoing all the good that had been done since his arrival. It is sad to see a family without love, its soul ripped out. And it is Dolly I feel most for.

Stanley, the son of a funeral director, is the young girl’s salvation - now a young woman. They fall in love, Stanley’s feelings genuine and true. It is also a relationship that is kept between them, for the time being. However, they know that the secret must be told as some point.

Which leads to a climax that will startle, and sadden. That is all I am going to say about this stage of the book. What surprises me is just how good this story is, both in style and atmosphere. Okay, seeing as this is a "Quick Reads" there is certainly no room for indepth character and location development, but Hewson manages to delivery without compromising the plot. A début perhaps - but an excellent beginning to a writing career!

The novel was written as part of a five-part British television talent contest called Murder Most Famous (which aired on 3-7th March 2008, BBC2). Host Minette Walters tutored and judged six competing celebrity writers (Diarmuid Gavin, Angela Griffin, Matt Allwright, Kelvin MacKenzie, Sherrie Hewson, Brendan Cole), with the winner having his or her crime fiction novel published by Pan Macmillan on World Book Day, March 2009.