Minnie and her sister Clara, spinsters both, live in a dilapidated country house in the middle of a housing estate, built when their father sold off the family’s land. Now in their seventies, their days follow a well-established routine: long gone are the garden parties, the tennis lessons and their suffocatingly strict mother. Gone, too, is any mention of what happened when Minnie was sixteen, and the secret the family buried in the grounds of their estate.
Directly opposite them lives Max, an 11-year-old whose life with his mum has changed beyond recognition since her new boyfriend arrived. Cast aside, he takes solace in Minnie’s careful routine, observed through his bedroom window.
Over the course of the summer, both begin to tell their stories: Max through a Dictaphone, Minnie through a diary. As their tales intertwine, ghosts are put to rest and challenges faced, in a story that is as dark as it is uplifting.
This should be one of the easiest reviews I ever write as all I need to say is ‘read it NOW’. However I guess I won’t get away with that, despite that being all you need to know. This really is a beautiful book which will have you running through the whole gamut of emotions before you reach the end.
It tells the story of Max and Minnie’s friendship over the course of one summer. It is the summer that Max’s mum finds herself a boyfriend and Max finds himself at best sidelined so that he seeks the companionship of his elderly neighbour Minnie. Minnie isn’t a new neighbour, but this is the first time they’ve had recourse to really notice each other. As Max relates his inner thoughts to his Mum’s old dictaphone it encourages Minnie to put her thoughts to paper and face the demons she’s been hiding from.
It’s an unlikely friendship, but it works because they meet as equals enjoying the solace of each others company and quietly gaining confidence from it. All the characters are well written, but it is Max and Minnie that take centre stage, and Max is an absolute delight. Despite only being 11, he is an old soul, and it is impossible not to love him, this makes the injustices he suffer hurt all the more. I suspect it’s his inner wisdom in part that Minnie recognises and nurtures. Their blossoming friendship is a joy to behold and will have you yearning for a happy ending for both.
While Max’s troubles are all in his present, Minnie’s are all in the past, though they have never, quite literally, been laid to rest. Hers is a heartbreaking story which you cannot fail to be moved by. Between them they generate joy, humour, sadness, heartbreak and for me at one point horror. But that said, it is a book that is ultimately uplifting, representing for both, a coming of age, despite their disparate ages.
This has become my book of the year (so far) because it is so beautifully written, characterful, thoughtful, provocative and emotive. Minnie’s final entry in her diary is a quote from George Eliot which sums up her experience and is one we can all learn from,
‘it is never too late to become what you might have been’
I received a review copy via Bookbridgr for the purpose of writing this honest review