Having read Bone by Bone and given it a 5 star rating, I had high expectations for Sanjida Kay’s second book …
My reading experience:
I didn’t want to consume this book in one sitting. Often this can so easily happen, and I did find this book very hard to put down. As Sanjida had given her writing so much effort, and had taken so much pride in her exquisite prose; and as Corvus had put a lot of thought into the book design including size and font, I really did want to savour every morsel as much as possible. Even so, this book was very hard to read slowly!
Zoe and Ollie Morley have tried for years to have a baby, and eventually they are lucky enough to have Evie. Seven years on, they have had the joy of the unexpected – a second child named Ben, but Zoe, like a lot of mothers, doesn’t find it easy to balance motherhood with work (in her case she is an artist), or balance all of that with a relationship.
The first chapter bashed me over the head and spurred me on at the same time. My first moment of stopping, gasping, putting my tea down and really feeling the story was when Zoe meets Harris, fellow artist and moors lover. For me, this is where Sanjida’s writing really comes into its own. Expressive, vivid, eloquent and evocative, the description of the Yorkshire moors is beautiful and breath-taking.
“ …so the moor has always been part of my life. It’s like a muse: the colours of the heather and the skiy; how you can see the savagery of the wind in the way the dwarf pine trees are bent double; the bleak lines of the landscape in winter when everything save the moss and the grass are dead, stones like bones, poking through a thin skin of bilberry bushes, rushes reflected in black bog water.”
Harris begins to feature sharply in Zoe’s thoughts. Meanwhile Ollie is more and more absent. With a school teacher and teaching assistant all too happy to babysit, Zoe has to use their goodwill to be able to get any work done. But the reader becomes quite suspicious of Harris, Jack and Hannah because of Evie’s sour moods and odd behaviour.
Without spoilers, suffice to say, that there are many moments that transport you to the moors, both in the beautiful, spectacular way, as well as the atmospheric, dark and brooding way.
“Like a fairy tale, his [Harris’s] word pictures replace the dark greens of this dark, primordial wood.”
It’s just too easy to fall in love with Harris, but beware the old adage; anything that looks too good to be true, usually is.
Throughout the book, Zoe’s narration is peppered with the voice of the perpetrator making the reader wonder about motive and intent. The reader is also enlightened to the ease at which others (in a cyber age of social media) can find out about your daily routine, your passions, your joy. This is something that Sanjida Kay wrote about in her first novel Bone by Bone. The reader is also drawn to the idea of six degrees of separation – the idea that all living things and everything else in the world is six or fewer steps away from each other. This notion is the belief that any two people are connected by a strong chain of ‘a friend of a friend.’
I was thrilled that our author creates a very real relationship between Zoe and Ollie, and the very regular circumstance where more than one thing is happening in any person’s life at any given time. Both our protagonists are busy and stressed people. No one has the right to say that Ollie’s work priorities are not normal because they are. Often as a parent you can lose sight of your precious treasure in the quest to provide for your loved ones. On the flip side, no woman has the right to berate Zoe for wanting some of her life back to be an artist again – what parent doesn’t crave a piece of time or something for themselves. Finally, when the shit hits the fan, who hasn’t hurt the person they love the most? Again, very normal, very real, and it is this, that makes Kay’s writing so credible, sincere and authentic.
“I take him [Ben] from Ollie as often as I can, partly because I want to keep Ben close, but also to prove that he loves me best and to make Ollie feel worse. Which makes me a complete bitch. And the entire time I feel as if I’ve been eviscerated. Evie has been missing for three days.”
The other aspect of The Stolen Child that captured my imagination was the ‘outing’ of several others people’s lives in the search for Evie, and ultimately, leading to the truth about Evie’s abduction and where she’d been hidden. As we go about our every day lives, we don’t stop to consider how we crash into each other with our every emotion, be it a smile, a kind or bad word, a piece of gossip, and how these encounters are passed on. We probably all know that’ shit rolls downhill’, but it is also interesting to see how communication and how we go about it in the 21st century is having such a huge impact on how we perceive one another. As our author points out; how well do we really know the people around us? How much do we observe the people our children interact with?
Finally my thought would be that this story points out our unwitting prejudices and assumptions about religion, gender and authority figures; be that an automatic assumption of trust or in fact the complete opposite. This story challenges the reader’s notions of our inherent values.
I don’t want to spoil it for future readers, but there is a final piece of description about Evie that is beautiful beyond compare, and it brought tears of happiness to my eyes. Sanjida Kay has created something I hadn’t experienced before – a magical, sparkling, colourful, psychological thriller. Absolutely brilliant.