The new novel from Ruth Hogan, the bestselling author of The Keeper of Lost Things and The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes – an uplifting novel of mothers and daughters, families and secrets and the astonishing power of friendship.
Tilly was a bright, outgoing little girl who liked playing with ghosts and matches. She loved fizzy drinks, swear words, fish fingers and Catholic churches, but most of all she loved living in Brighton in Queenie Malone’s magnificent Paradise Hotel with its endearing and loving family of misfits – staff and guests alike. But Tilly’s childhood was shattered when her mother sent her away from the only home she’d ever loved to boarding school with little explanation and no warning.
Many years later, Tilda has grown into an independent woman still damaged by her mother’s unaccountable cruelty. Wary of people, her only friend is her dog, Eli. But when her mother dies, Tilda goes back to Brighton and with the help of her beloved Queenie sets about unravelling the mystery of her exile from The Paradise Hotel, only to discover that her mother was not the woman she thought she knew at all …
Having loved Ruth Hogan’s previous novel ‘The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes’, I was very excited to get my hands on an advance copy of her third book for review. There’s something about this author’s writing style that is so engaging to me but I just can’t put my finger on what exactly it is. Let’s just say it has that ‘je ne sais quoi’ that makes a book really special, and ensures that you think about it long after you’ve finished the story.
As the start of the novel, we meet 46 year old Tilda as she arrives at her late mother’s seaside home to carry out the unenviable task of clearing through Grace’s things. We then meet her younger self – the vibrant, funny, curious and determined six year old Tilly, and as the story moves on we see things through their alternating viewpoints. We also find out that Tilly has a gift and can see people who aren’t there, although she doesn’t realise the importance of this yet. (In case anything of a supernatural nature puts you off, rest assured that this is not a major theme of the story, rather an accepted fact that she can see dead people – as could her father before her. It’s actually quite a refreshing take, to just accept it, without question and I think the author was quite brave to do this).
Through Tilly’s flashbacks, we learn that her Dad, Stevie, disappeared when she was just six years old. Tilly never really understood what happened to him, and her Mum never really seemed to be coping with it. We see Tilly trying to come to terms with it, and after a holiday becomes a permanent move, she finds herself living in Grace’s old home town and living in Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel. Grace is working at the hotel and the change has made her seem like a new woman and of course little Tilly is a huge hit with the vibrant and colourful characters that are drawn to Queenie’s circle like moths to a flame, and before long she is loving her new life, and apart from the Stevie sized gap in her life, she is happy and content.
Thirty-nine years later, and Tilda is a world away from the little girl she once was. Touched by OCD, and virtually estranged from Grace for many years, she has never understood why her Mum suddenly ripped her out of her happy life at Queenie’s hotel and sent her to boarding school, and more importantly, she’s never forgiven her for it. While clearing out her things, Tilda comes across a stack of Grace’s diaries – left for her to find – and as she works through them she meets a version of her Mum that she has never met before and starts to understand more about her life than she ever thought possible.
Ruth Hogan writes beautifully about people and the complexity behind seemingly simple lives. She paints such wonderful pictures in your mind. The characters in this book are wonderful; Tilly is funny and sweet, and curious – exactly as a little girl should be, and Tilda is endearing, and you’re rooting for her the whole way through. The plot is well planned out with a few surprises thrown in for good measures. The only downside to this book is that I’m extremely sad that I can’t actually visit Queenie and her colourful hotel!