‘You know more about magic then you let on, don’t you?’
‘Magic’s easy. It’s real life that’s complicated.’
Hopkins women have always been secretive and, at present, there are three of them. Lilwen Hopkins is a Hopkins by blood, unlike her sister-in-law, Violet, who only came to the village in order to marry Lilwen’s brother, Teilo. Violet and Teilo’s 14-year-old daughter, Cadi, spends all her time trying to discover her family’s deepest, best kept and most frustrating secret–what happened to her father and youngest sister, of whom there are not even photographs. While Lilwen lives alone in the small cottage, Violet and Cadi live next door to her in the big one. Yet although the three women live in close proximity, each is a world unto herself, even Cadi keeps her own confidences, not wanting to share everything with her mother and aunt.
Lilwen was raised in the village under her mother, Gwenllian’s, guidance and is therefore familiar with all the old ways—how to keep a trailing jasmine alive in a climate ill-suited to it, what herbs act as the best salves for cuts and bruises and, most importantly, how to make herself invisible in order to ‘see’ others better. Yet although her ways are rooted in tradition, Lilwen is grounded in the present and spends much of her time looking after Cadi, as she’s done since Cadi was born. For Violet, her past is as important as—if not more important than—her present. Violet is largely absent from everyday life, doing only what is necessary to get from one day to another, unable to bear the pain of her past. It’s Violet’s silence, and Lilwen’s complicity in keeping Violet’s secrets, which brings about Cadi’s irrepressible desire to discover what happened to her family, a desire which, ultimately, leads Cadi to do things she wouldn’t otherwise do.
Lovekin’s story contains elements of magical realism and, in many ways, resembles a fairy tale. She uses stunning sensory detail to transport her readers to the small village in Wales where the story takes place. I could smell the over perfumed roses cut through with the occasional burst of meadowsweet, feel the wild winds and wet, hot August downpours, see the mysterious feathers and leaves which sometimes littered Cadi’s bedroom floor and, most importantly, empathise with her characters. In addition to this, Lovekin challenges the traditional notion of family—Violet, Cadi and Lilwen are very much a family, yet they are all women and none of them spends their time pining after men, nor do they define themselves in relation to men. I found this depiction to be refreshing as there are many families who consist entirely of women, for varying reasons. Lovekin’s writing shines with the difficult magic of female camaraderie, and with real magic as well, which is why when the Not the Booker shortlisting vote came around, I voted for Ghostbird.
I’m looking forward to reading more of Carol Lovekin’s stories in future.
Ghostbird is published by Honno Women’s Press and is available direct from them: http://www.honno.co.uk/dangos.php?ISBN=9781909983397
You can also order it from Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ghostbird-Carol-Lovekin/dp/190998339X/
Follow Carol’s blog to learn more about her writing and inspiration: https://carollovekinauthor.com/
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