Most children who grew up in Britain in the 1980s know exactly what you mean when you say the words ‘Space Hopper’. For me it conjures up vivid memories of a large inflatable orange ball with a printed face that I sat on and bounced around on in our gaudily decorated living room, in between bouts of being told off for launching myself into various items of furniture.
As common as it is infuriating for both parents of humans and owners of cats – I also loved the box, as much if not more than the actual Space Hopper itself. There are photos of me as a nipper standing in the patched up box pretending it was a bus, an aeroplane, a horsey, and various other modes of transport (it was always transport based wasn’t it, never a shop or a fire station?). The willingness to believe that a cardboard box is anything a lot more exciting than a cardboard box is so present in the minds of children at play, and is also an underlying feature of this book – creating a nice parallel for me – travelling back in time to my childhood and the seemingly halcyon days of the early 1980s.
Helen Fisher’s Space Hopper is a very impressive debut novel. One of those books that is very special and very different, and to say almost anything about the plot gives too much away so I am trying to be careful! An unusual story about love of all different types, it makes us wonder what would we do if the impossible became a reality and we could find answers to some of the questions that we thought would be hidden to us forever.
Faye is in her mid-30s and has a lovely, cherished family; she’s Mum to 2 children and has a devoted husband, Eddie – who has recently heard God calling and is now going through training to be accepted into the Church as a Vicar. As a child, Faye lost her Mum and has nursed this very personal sadness since; the grief permeating everything she experiences with her own children as she tries to make sure that they have all of the love that she didn’t get from her biological parents. This loss and the subsequent emotional responses that Faye experiences as a result of this childhood loss remains a compelling theme throughout the book, informing many of Faye’s decisions, for better or for worse – often for worse which led to gritted teeth and rolling of eyes from this particular reviewer. There are times when I wanted to scream at Faye for being selfish and thinking in only one direction, but then I would take a step back and think…but…wouldn’t I do that too in her situation? If you could go back and find out what really happened – well, wouldn’t you? Even if it risked your present happiness? What price would be too high?
It’s quite contradictory in places because it at times it is dark, gritty and unpleasant – others it’s laugh out loud funny – however Helen Fisher’s insightful way of writing really gets to you somehow. It gets under your skin. The arguments are real and the words thrown about in them are cruel, even if just spat out in the heat of the moment. I really think Helen gets the feel of these tense situations just right – tempers flare and we often speak out of turn in anger, and regret it quickly.
The main characters are different and intriguing. We have Eddie, Faye’s husband and we see the dynamics of their relationship and how the events of the book shake the seemingly solid trust they have between them. Louis, friends with Faye through her work, is partially sighted and adds brevity and humour to the situation. I believe the author has experience working with blind and partially sighted people, and it was good to have the little details in the interactions that felt so real such as Faye touching Louis’s hand to show him where his cup is and the description of his delight when he receives an item he knows is beautiful, even though he can’t see it.
As mentioned earlier, Space Hopper is an impressive novel with a very unusual twist and will speak loudly to all children of the mid-70s through 80s, and indeed, anyone who has questions about something that happened in their past that they cannot find answers to. A great debut, and I look forward to reading more from Helen in future.