A schoolgirl's story

2008-02-01 00:00

This is Susan Fletcher's second novel. Her first novel was the winner of the 2004 Whitbread First Novel Award. I can't judge the first not having read it, but Oystercatchers is a gem. Fletcher writes with remarkable wisdom and clarity.

The premise of the story is that Moira's sister Amy lies in a coma in hospital where she has been in the same vegetative state for years. I had a “heart sink” moment when I read that. Not another depressing read, I thought. But I pressed on past the opening pages. Fletcher's remarkable writing soon removed any trace of disappointment. Her prose is poetic, profoundly expressive and captivating.

This novel is about Moira who tells her story as a narration to Amy, whom she'd resented when she was born. Moira was an only child until she turned 12. Her parents suffered one miscarriage after another until Amy's birth. Moira's unforgiving personality makes her turn against her own parents and take up a scholarship far away from the beloved Pembrokeshire coast where she has grown up. She cuts herself off deliberately from her devoted parents and they are stunned by the sudden change in their once adoring daughter.

The school in Norfolk is cold and full of unfriendly girls and Moira takes refuge in her intellectual abilities. Very tall and skinny, with large spectacles, Moira is the complete opposite, or so it seems to her, of her trendy peers. She is an outcast there, until she attracts the attention of one of the popular girls' boyfriends.

This novel is Moira's apology to Amy, a confession of sorts in the hope of being given absolution by the comatose girl. For the reader it is a sumptuous feast of words which creates characters that leap off the page. It is also an evocative depiction of the landscapes which play their part in the creation of the characters which live in it.

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