“Beatrice is one of those individuals who is consciously trying very hard to be a good person. Not that she isn’t naturally a good person. It’s just that she’s always making such an effort at it”
Another favourite story was Shearing Season. Jamie is a ‘strangely gifted eleven-year old’ who wants to be an astronaut but lives on a remote sheep farm in the Lake District. When Miles, a PhD student in Aerospace Engineering, comes to lodge at the farm the boy sees a potential opportunity to ‘break into the space travel industry’. Miles sets Jamie a series of tests. The denouement of this tale is exquisitely rendered.
Accelerate is a fabulous read – layered and nuanced with the added bonus of a scene set on a hill not far from where I live. I wasn’t convinced that the dialogue section fitted (I am reviewing a proof so it is possible this will be changed in the final edit). I adored what the author did with the starling murmuration. The poignant ending was perfect.
The Flat Roof is one of the shorter of the stories and offers less breadth and progression. It is a study of grief, the weight of it, again using avian imagery.
An enjoyable, striking collection with a fine balance of contemporary elements and more mythical themes. This is an author to watch (in her own right) and a recommended read.
It presents their personal travails as they navigate the murky waters of remaining independent whilst dealing with a frail elderly parent. Their eighty-five year old father, James, is a retired Professor of Particle Physics. He was married for sixty-four years to the equally intelligent but now dead Anna. Since breaking his hip, James cannot manage the stairs in his cottage so sleeps alone on a single bed at street level. They therefore hire a live-in carer to enable him to stay in his own home several hours drive from where they live.
Finding a carer willing to move to a sleepy Cotswold village and give James the attention he requires proves a challenge. After a couple of false starts they find Mandy, an overweight and garrulous fifty-two year old who arrives with impeccable references. The recently morose James is transformed under her care. Gone are the stimulating conversations and intellectual musings. In their place is an interest in village gossip, scratch cards, daytime TV and visits to shopping centres.
Robert and Phoebe retreat feeling both relieved and guilty. Robert is writing a novel in his garden shed in London, avoiding his beautiful and successful wife who goads him about his failures. Phoebe, an artist living in a small Welsh town where every second person harbours artistic tendencies, is indulging in an affair with a local woodsman. Both siblings feel frustrated at the direction their lives have taken, blaming parents they remember from childhood as neglectful.
Mandy berates Robert and Phoebe for still harbouring grudges against their parents. She has little time for such self-pity when they are farming out their father’s care. As her employers, the siblings do not appreciate being spoken to so plainly. Privately they worry that what Mandy is saying may be true.
Story chapters are told from key characters’ points of view. The reader learns the bare bones of the siblings’ backstories, their thwarted desires and concerns. As Robert and Phoebe go through their days, James and Mandy appear to be getting on well. There is, however, a growing suspicion that the affable carer is not trustworthy. Phoebe and Robert prevaricate over whether they are being paranoid or if they should be concerned. And yet, do the family want to lose a carer doing a job they are unwilling to take on themselves?