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Tuesday, 28 July 2020

‘The Unravelling’ by Thorne Moore

Published by Honno,
21 July 2016.
ISBN: 978-1-909983-48-9 (PB)

A lot happened in 1966. England won the World Cup. Labour won a general election, and future Tory prime minister David Cameron was born. A slag heap engulfed a school in Aberfan. The Moors Murderers were put on trial. The Beatles played their last ever concert, and John Lennon made his notorious claim that they were more popular than Jesus.

And events took place which almost destroyed ten-year-old Karen Rothwell.

Karen is fictional, of course; she’s the protagonist of The Unravelling, Thorne Moore’s powerful novel about how childhood shapes what children grow up to be, and she wasn’t aware of any of those momentous events. She was too concerned with becoming the friend of Serena Whinn, the most beautiful and lovable girl at Marsh Green Primary School.

Flash forward thirty-five years and Karen’s life has not developed well. Following a horrific childhood accident, her body healed but her mind did not; now she lives in near squalor, has difficulty holding down a job, is obsessed with books and occasionally spirals down into a fantasy world where nothing makes sense. Something happened to trigger this state of mind, but she can only remember what it was in flashes and disconnected images. All she knows for certain is that it happened in 1966.

Then more images start to surface; Karen remembers that someone died and feels compelled to go in search of the truth. Sometimes thinking straight and other times feeling herself unravel into one of her ‘episodes’, she hunts down the five girls who were there at the time, now, like her, women in their forties. Mousy Ruth is an embittered housewife. Barbara, always the bossy one, is a self-important solicitor. Angela is an alcoholic, and pious Denise has made it her mission to care for her. And then there’s Serena, the adored centre of their little universe back in 1966.

In The Unravelling, Thorne Moore has not only devised the most original conceit for a crime investigation that I’ve encountered in many years; she has created a cast of characters who live and breathe and illustrate with precision how children were regarded in the 1960s. She has also recreated the feel of that time: a world emerging from the dismal post-war years but leaving some people behind. What’s more, she gets inside Karen’s unravelling mind in such a way that it’s hard not to spiral into mental chaos alongside her; several times I had to lay the book aside in order to return to the real world and ground myself in ordinariness. But as Karen slowly pieced together the truth about those events of 1966 and set out to right a great wrong, I found laying it aside was no longer an option.

This is one of those novels which has it all: a puzzle to untangle, and an ending which is both satisfying and surprising; characters you feel you know; atmosphere in bucketloads; and all rendered in a style which carries the reader along from one revelation to the next like a fast-flowing stream. It’s a novel that will get under your skin.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Thorne Moore grew up in Luton, near London, but has lived in Pembrokeshire in West Wales for the last 35 years. She writes psychological crime, or domestic noir, with an historical twist, focusing on the cause and consequences of crimes rather than on the details of the crimes themselves. A Time for Silence, set in Pembrokeshire, was published by Honno in 2012. It was followed by Motherlove and The Unravelling, set partly in a fictional version of Luton. Shadows, published by Endeavour in 2017, is set in an old house in Pembrokeshire, and is paired with Long Shadows, which explained the history and mysteries of the same house from Medieval times to the late Victorian period.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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