I adored Lisa O'Donnell's debut novel The Death of Bees. (my review) And so did a lot of others - O'Donnell was the winner of The Commonwealth Book Prize. When I heard she had a new novel - Closed Doors - I jumped at the chance to read it.
O'Donnell has again set her novel in the recent past. Closed Doors takes place in the early 1980's on a small Scottish island where eleven year old Michael Murray lives with his mother Rosemary, his unemployed father Brian and his Granny.
Michael is busy practicing his 'keepie-uppies' for the talent show the neighbourhood kids are going to put on, arguing with his arch nemesis Dirty Alice and keeping an eye on what goes on in his bit of the world. But when his mother comes home from work bruised and bleeding, he's sent to his room. Why won't his ma go to the police? Why is he told to tell the neighbours she fell down the stairs? What happened to her?
Confused and worried, Michael needs to know what happened to her and what is going on.
"I listen at doors now. It's the only way to find out stuff. No one tells me anything."
Life has changed drastically for the Murray family. As adult readers, we know what has happened to Rosemary. And as adults, it is heartbreaking to watch Michael try to make sense of things. He continues to listen at doors, hearing bits and pieces and being told half truths as the family struggles to keep things quiet. But gossip in a small town cannot be contained and when another woman is hurt, there can be no more secrets.
O'Donnell has created yet another wonderful child narrator in Michael. His voice is real, running the gamut of emotions. There is a sense of innocence in the children of this island. Part of it is the insular nature of island living, part of it is the time period used. I can't imagine this same story being told in present day. O'Donnell has chosen time and place well - it absolutely works. The loss of that innocence makes Closed Doors a coming of age tale in so many ways.
"It's terrible to know too many things about people. It makes you feel like a liar because you have to act like you know nothing at all when the truth is you know everything there is to know."
"Lies make people happy, I think, and that's why people tell them, not to hurt or anger anyone, but to keep them safe from the truth, except our lie, the lie Ma and Da and Granny are telling to themselves and everyone else around them, it is the worst of lies and it is making no one happy and when lies don't make you happy, you have to wonder what will happen nest.
O'Donnell also deftly explores family and family dynamics in Closed Doors. What secrets would you keep to protect your family? And at what cost?
Closed Doors is another great read from a talented wordsmith. I'll be waiting for book number three.
"Lisa O'Donnell won the Orange Screenwriting Prize in 2000 for her screenplay The Wedding Gift. Her debut novel, The Death of Bees, was the winner of the 2013 Commonwealth Book Prize. She lives in Scotland." You can find Lisa O'Donnell on Facebook and on Twitter.
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