Book Review: The Doll Funeral by Kate Hamer

book the doll funeralI loved the main character in this book. Ruby is different. She has a bright red birthmark around her left eye, and she can see things that other people can’t, like Shadow (the boy who mysteriously appears out of nowhere) and the Wasp Lady (who swoops at her as she walks up the stairs). At the age of 13 she is delighted to discover that she was adopted as a baby, and decides to track down her real parents, who will surely come to rescue her from Mick (who likes to use his fists) and Barbara (who lets him).   

The novel alternates between Ruby’s story (in 1983) and that of her mother, Anna (in 1970). While Ruby embarks on various attempts to discover the identity of her real parents (from summoning their spirits through homemade dolls, to searching for guidance in books), we gradually find out what really happened. The tension builds bit by bit, as past and present are woven together.

The story is set in the Forest of Dean, and trees are important to both Ruby and her mother. They represent home and safety, but the forest is also a mysterious, spiritual place. Mick and Barbara are still haunted by the death of their own daughter, and death itself appears to Ruby one day, in the form of a crashed car with a woman hanging upside down from her seatbelt. But no-one believes her when she tells them about it.

I love the way Hamer plays with the reader’s mind, as first one theory then another must be dismissed in our quest to uncover the truth behind Ruby’s adoption. Meanwhile, things get worse at home, until instinct kicks in and Ruby attempts to stand up for herself. Fleeing in horror at what she has done, she takes refuge amongst the trees. But she soon realises that the forest is a harsh and unforgiving place, and is forced to return and face whatever punishment awaits.

Eventually, taking the advice of Shadow, Ruby ends up seeking sanctuary at Hightops, an old hippy commune in the hills, where there are no adults, only children – Elizabeth, Tom (whom she first met at school) and their younger brother Crispin. Their parents, it seems, have gone abroad to ‘find themselves’ leaving Elizabeth, the eldest, in charge. The house is remote, and no-one disturbs them, apart from Mr Green Car, who appears every now and then to check on a greenhouse full of plants.

It isn’t until about half way through the book that we realise things are (literally) not all they seem. Ruby’s strange talent for seeing spirits is quite unnerving and, at times, she finds is difficult to discern between reality and spirituality. It is this which eventually leads her back to the forest, where she hopes to find information about her real parents. As Ruby becomes more aware of her ability to see lost souls, she is also able to confront the living, and discover the truth about what happened to her parents.

It is strange to find a novel which presents the world of the living and the dead simultaneously, and this could have been fantastical, but Hamer’s writing presents it as quite real, almost comforting, so that we are drawn into Ruby’s mind completely, seeing what she sees and understanding it as she understands it. Shadow is a surreal, ghostly character, but his story ‘shadows’ Ruby’s story, and we eventually discover the reason for his presence. Here’s Ruby’s description of him:

“Sometimes he was dense as a nut and moved swiftly. Other times he drifted. Often, I could whisper in his ear and he would listen…. Sometimes I wondered if he’d been my twin… the Shadow had always been there… – darkness round his mouth…”

The Doll Funeral is an exquisitely crafted novel, full of emotion and heartache. It explores family connections, and the spiritual nature of relationships. It is a captivating story of survival and hope, springing up from a root of pain and despair.

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Declaration: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

One thought on “Book Review: The Doll Funeral by Kate Hamer

  1. Pingback: An Interview with Kate Hamer (author of The Girl in the Red Coat)

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