“Ay, it’s a grim tale,” rumbles a character in Erica James’s latest novel. Its beleaguered protagonists certainly do seem to have had more than their share of bad luck. Mothers throw themselves under trains or get strangled, leaving their poor offspring to fall out of windows or get beaten up by their grandfathers. A grim tale indeed.
After her mother’s suicide, Lydia and her sister are sent to live with their grandparents in a grey northern town. This dour elderly duo are members of a fanatical church that deems coffee-drinking the epitome of hedonism – which doesn’t stop their grandfather reading naughty magazines in the shed or doling out black eyes.
However, things start to look up when Lydia meets Noah, a fellow misfit who sees past her bowl coiffure. Romance blossoms despite her monobrow and his leg-brace, and first love is played out against a backdrop of Seventies nostalgia. However, a wicked uncle, a mad grandmother and a grisly murder come between them, forcing Lydia to escape and seek her fortune in Italy. Some 20 years later, the couple are reunited.
Despite all the book’s troubled-childhood clichés, it is rescued from too much sentimentality by strong characters and an ambitious plot. Both Gothic and gritty, it stays just the right side