Hilbre Island is a compelling psychological mystery about talented young woman, highly successful in her field but in personal distress and heading for a full meltdown. It kept me turning the pages to find out what was the cause of the dysfunction in her family and whether she could come back from the depths. What made it so readable, as well as wanting to know the answer to the puzzle, was the characters, who were warm and alive, so that I cared what happened to them. The mystery is solved in the end, original and believable, an excellent ending – a sad story where everyone had their reasons – and a redemption of sorts leading to some calm after the storm, but by no means a fairytale “happy ever after”. The descriptive writing really brought the scenes to life, especially of a bygone Liverpool and a bygone England of the 1960’s-1970’s (small specialist shops, families living above the shop, children playing out for hours without anyone worrying where they were; the divisions caused by the 11+, grammar schools and upward mobility) but touching on the remnants of an earlier era and way of life disappearing before one’s eyes. The descriptions of Lisa’s “descent into hell” through her attempts to form relationships was strong and graphic, but always believable, and nothing was gratuitous. Shades of David Lodge in the portrayals of university politics and power struggles.
– Ann Reynolds
Hilbre Island is a story that pushes the boundaries of your imagination. It draws you into a world of brilliance against a backdrop of drugs, sex and family struggles. It is dark in its approach with obsession, co-dependency and self harm being the norm. The structure of the book allows you to delve into the characters present as well as their past making it feel as though you are living through their traumas. It also draws you into making assumptions about the characters relationships which may or may not be real. This gives it an air of mystery and wanting to read and know more. I’m looking forward to the next book and finding out the fates of the characters. A great read.
– Gail Steptoe-Warren
I believe this to be the first novel by a new writer from Coventry, and the first novel published by a new Birmingham company – a novel concerning the life of a Liverpool born woman, who studies and works in both Coventry and Birmingham. She is an artist, and the story is essentially the unravelling of her creative energies – in two senses, firstly the discovery and blossoming of her talent and secondly its loss as her fractured personality struggles with life, loves and work. It ends on a note of hope and resolution, fittingly (too neatly for some maybe, but ending a story is always the most difficult bit), together with her brother on Hilbre Island, facing the future together, and thus fulfilling a prophesy from their childhood…the image of the Anthony Gormley’s iron men at ‘Another Place’, also looking out over the Irish Sea, came to mind, symbols of hope and discovery.
I enjoyed the book, and needed to know how it was to finish. What was the mystery behind Lisa’s fractured relationship with her mother? The answer was not quite the one I had expected but was similar; it was believable and the psychology was authentic. (On the same morning that I read this answer I read in the obituary of author Brian Aldiss: ‘His mother…was grief-stricken by the stillbirth of his older sister and took her anger out on Brian’; a different circumstance but the same traumatic effect.). The idea that this early trauma had both created the circumstances for creativity but had left a woman vulnerable to exploitative relationships and substance abuse was plausible, and bluntly told – but it was neither too harsh, nor too bluntly expressed, and I am a reader who reacts quickly to gratuitous violence of action or language.
Having connections with both Liverpool and Birmingham (and even Coventry) I was bound to be intrigued with the location of the story. Part 2 of the story which deals with Lisa’s childhood and education in Liverpool is particularly detailed and authentic, both in the description of the city and in creating the feel of the 1970’s/80’s. Images of the city popped up in my mind throughout.
What is it about Liverpool people that makes them both naive and vulnerable (unsophisticated?) and very interesting and attractive to potential employers, and sometimes unattractive and threatening those in authority? Is it that they carry their emotions close to the surface and are expressive in their language? Whatever, I felt that the author had created an authentic local identity for his characters, and in particular for Lisa’s family.
The story reaches its climax in the ‘courtroom drama’ of a disciplinary hearing at the College of Art and Design. I liked this twist to an actual courtroom setting, and again thought that this was an authentic window into the world of further education.
I was pleased that there was no attempt to render the dialogue of the characters into ‘scouse’. I found the writing fluent and unobtrusive, even if there were in my experience too many ‘f’ words dotted around, though I may well have had a sheltered life! Once into the story I needed to know how it ended, and did not find the 400 pages too long (though long enough!).
So all in all an enjoyable and memorable read!