Mystery and suspicion in a small village community

2010-06-02 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

Ruby’s Spoon

Anna Lawrence Pietroni

Chatto & Windus

RUBY’S Spoon is Anna Lawrence ­Pietroni’s first novel, set in the Black Country in England just before World War 2. This isn’t the easiest novel to get drawn into because the dialogue is written in the dialect of the area. But once able to master this, the reader becomes engrossed.

Ruby Tailor lives with her grandmother, Nan Annie. Ruby’s mother died when Ruby was very young. Nan Annie mourns the loss of her daughter as well as her own husband: both were ostensibly lost at sea. Annie forbids Ruby to go near the water at any time. Annie’s brusqueness leaves Ruby lonely and she befriends Captain Len who runs the chip shop.

Ruby is mostly content with her life, helping the affectionate Captain and taking food to her father who isolated himself since his wife’s death by living and working at the shipyard.

All Ruby has to remember her mother by is an old almanac, which she treasures. In this almanac she reads of her mother’s dreams to ­escape to sea one day. Fourteen-year-old Ruby begins to harbour the same dream. This dream seems doomed until the arrival of a ­woman, Isa Fly, in Cradle Cross. Her strange ways beguile Ruby. Isa is full of tales of Severnsea, the port to which Ruby longs to travel. Isa’s tale is that she’s come to Cradle Cross to find her father’s abandoned daughter. The inhabitants of Cradle Cross treat the newcomer with the gravest suspicion. Isa’s only allies are Ruby and the newly made heir to the Blicks’ Button factory, Truda Blick.

Soon the whole village is alive with tales of bizarre goings-on. People’s most treasured possessions go missing and the dredger woman who clears the canal of debris begins to make damning accusations about Isa. The mood of the ­villagers grows nasty and Isa gives Ruby her own special talisman, a handmade spoon, to wear around her neck to protect her from drowning in the sea. The spoon becomes the key to unlock the secrets which encompass the lives of the villagers. Even visitors like Isa Fly cannot ­escape its truth.

Ruby’s Spoon is well written and absorbing. The impression of the lives of all the people in Cradle Cross stays with the reader long after the book is finished.

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