Orenda Week: Review – ‘The Mountain In My Shoe’ by Louise Beech (@LouiseWriter; @OrendaBooks)
My next post in my Orenda Books feature week is another brand new review of a book which was released in July of this year to great acclaim. A moving story of a young boy in foster care and the woman who comes to be his friend, this one has the power to warm even the coldest heart.
Bernadette has tired of being in a loveless marriage with her domineering husband Richard. Everything about her life is regimented, cemented in routine. His routine. He controls everything she does. Even now, when she has decided to leave him he somehow stops her, failing to arrive home at six pm sharp as on every other night of their marriage.
In spite of herself she worries about him but only until she receives a call that changes everything. Conor, a young boy she had befriended through a program which matches volunteers up with children in foster care, has gone missing. Conor means the world to Bernadette and she drops everything, all plans of walking out on Richard, to join his foster mother Anne in her search for the young boy.
As for Conor, he is on his own adventure. On his way to see his birth mother to give her a gift, he is traveling with a stranger. A man who claims to know all about him, his foster mother and, more importantly, his birth mother.
Conor’s story is one already so full of tragedy and loss. While he will learn many things on this journey, will it ultimately just end in more disappointment? And will Bernadette find both Conor and the peaceful new start that she ultimately dreams of?
‘The Mountain In My Shoe’ is a beautifully moving story which looks clearly at the importance of family, and the honesty, innocence and surety that can be found by looking at the world through the eyes of a child.
The styling is unique, the prose most poetic at times, and Conor’s story one of continual rejection and upheaval that will almost certainly make you shed a few tears along the way. That said there are moments of pure joy throughout as well, and elements of humour too. The story is told by three very distinct voices which is what gives it that unique, honest feeling.
First you have Bernadette’s story, told in third person narrative which makes some of what she has endured more bearable to hear. Next up is Conor, told in first person with the kind of uncensored honesty that could only come from a child. The unwavering faith, despite everything he has been through, and the inability to engage the brain before the words flow from his mouth certainly made me smile.
And the final voice, the most unusual of them all, is ‘the book’. Yes. A book. More precisely Conor’s life book, a book given to him at birth to track all the key milestones during his time in the foster care system. It includes official reports, letters from foster carers and even from his birth mother. This book is a perfect segue way from Conor’s past to the point in time where we meet him today. But it is also one of the most moving parts of the whole story as we begin to understand just how many times Conor has been moved along having become too old, too neglected, or too inconvenient, until he finally settled in his current home with Anne. It is hard to read at times, but sadly not a unique story. It is empathetically written but enables the reader to feel a true sense of what life is like for foster children everywhere. Not all of Conor’s carers are perfect, but there is so much love for him in these passages, something so refreshing to see in a world so quick to critizise the care system. Please do not feel tempted to skip or skim read these chapters. They really, truly matter.
Conor is a brilliant character, his story is so moving and it forms the largest part of the text. He is obsessed with Mohammed Ali and boxing after he was introduced to it by one of his foster brothers and, in fact, this fascination is where the title is drawn from. He loves to draw, with almost perfect recall, and hates to leave things half finished. His character is informed but not dominated by his past and he is a truly loveable young boy. But probably what my Nan would have called a rapscallion too. You are invested in his story and his future from the very start. However, Bernadette’s story is just as compelling. You can feel the claustrophobic nature of her marriage, the gradual manipulation of her husband to control her every move. It is the little things rather than any big obvious elements of violence which add a level of authenticity to the book. Her shock discoveries throughout are reflected in her fear of Richard’s retribution when he finally gets home. She is alone and isolated and Conor and his foster mother Anne are her only lifeline. The desperation she feels in thinking she may have lost Conor too is palpable.
The descriptive narrative feeds a clear understanding of the location and the circumstances in which these characters live. The apartment in which Bernadette and Richard live is a perfect metaphor for the decay and neglect which exists in their marriage and add to the tone, the atmosphere, of the book itself. This book is a mystery, yes, but so much more than that too. Was I truly shocked by the truth as it emerges? No. But I don’t feel I needed to be, as everything that surrounded it, that built that most tragically hopeful picture of the lives of our two protagonists, made this book perfect. You don’t need big shocks to surprise. And this book is proof that sometimes the most simple imagery, the single pebble in your shoe feeling like a mountain, can capture spirit and meaning far more than a dramatic reveal ever could. Simply beautiful.
A moving and hopeful 5 stars.
My thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for the paperback copy of the book. I also part listened to this book on audible and can highly recommend this version. The narrators were perfect, the differing voices adding a new layer to an already wonderful text.
‘The Mountain In My Shoe’ can be purchased from the following links: