Genre: Literary fiction
Description: Part of the Amazon blurb for this book (the most interesting part) tells us: “Beautiful Things is a very practical fairytale, weaving folk myths with the hard cold modern reality of poverty, abuse, and the desperation of being trapped in “the system”. It is about trying to halt time, trap shadows and escape chains. It is also a more primal story of blood, fire, and sacrifice. Spend some time with broken people in the lonely Scottish landscape, and question what it is to be free.”
Kate is travelling around Scotland on her own, when she nearly runs over a young girl calling herself Grace. They begin to travel together on a ‘manyana’ sort of basis. Their tour is disturbed, on a number of levels, when they meet Alex, a local landscape photographer.
The blurb also tells us: “Grace soon finds herself drawn into Kate’s endearing but isolated existence, creating short-lived sculptures in lonely parts of the landscape. However, their relationship is extremely precarious. Whilst Grace becomes increasingly fond and trustful of her rescuer, she also reveals herself to be disturbingly delinquent and manipulative. Meanwhile Kate seems to be struggling physically and mentally somehow, and not just with the burden of looking after Grace.”
Author: I could find nothing out about the author at all.
Appraisal: I was blown away by this. I don’t expect to read a better story this year. It reminded me strongly of Ali Smith’s Autumn. I was entranced by the ephemeral art works Kate leaves scattered around the Scottish landscape, and in awe of her artistic and DIY skills. I was fascinated by the nuggets of apparently random information dropped into the book by the author through Kate (which are not random at all, one soon begins to realise). I was intrigued by the back stories (very gradually teased out) of Kate and Grace, which lead to their meeting. My heart ached for the life experiences of each of them. I feared for each of them in turn. It transpired that I feared for the wrong one. I am seldom misled in this way, so I even sort-of enjoyed that novel experience. The story is well-structured, well-plotted and the characters are first rate.
I’ve spent time in some of the parts of Scotland in which the book is set, researching a book of my own. So, of course, that enriched the story for me. I know something of Dunbeath (it has a castle, which is why I was there, and the statue of ‘Kenn and the Fish’ to which Kelly refers, famously commemorates local author Neil Gunn). And I know a little of Ullapool (at midsummer when for a couple of weeks it is never truly dark – they call it the ‘simmer dim’). It is wonderful up there. I recommend retracing this journey (possibly in less ramshackle transport) to anyone.
FYI: there are numerous typos and infelicities missed at editing. Normally I would deduct a star for this, but the story is SO GOOD it still gets 5*s from me. As the book is only available on Kindle it would be A Good Thing if author or publisher would please sort out the infelicities so that everyone can enjoy this good work even more …
NB: Review originally prepared for Big Al & Pals. Received a complementary review copy.