Review – Ruby’s Spoon by Anna Lawrence Pietroni

In this, the author’s debut novel, mermaids, myths and mystery are the order of the day.  It is set in 1930s England, in the small town of Cradle Cross in the heart of the Black Country in the Midlands.  Surrounded by canals, brimming over with superstition, Cradle Cross is like a prison for our narrator, 12 year old Ruby Abel Taylor.  Ruby dreams of new horizons but her crabbed grandmother Annie has forbidden her to go near water after losing her husband and child to the sea so she’s fated to lead a stifled, claustraphobic existence until one day Isa Fly comes to town.  Isa, half-blind with a mane of white hair, becomes a scapegoat when things start to go wrong in the community – the workers at the local button factory are laid off and valued items start to go missing.  Soon rumours of witchcraft are rife.

The author certainly knows this area like the back of her hand and the inclusion of Black Country dialect enhances the otherworldliness and the seclusion of this community which has lost so many of its menfolk during the war.  Indeed the principal characters are all female and all strong-willed and determined, including the idealistic Ruby, the grief-stricken widows of the Ruth and Naomi Society, the worldly-wise Oxbridge graduate Truda Blick, the sinister black clad woman known as Blackbird who harbours a grudge against the charismatic Isa Fly.

On the one hand there is a lot going on in this novel and it took me until about a third in before I settled into it.    There is no doubt that this is a well written, atmospheric novel with fairytale elements but I can’t help thinking that a bit of judicious pruning and restraint would have created a sharper, homogeneous read.  This debut shows a lot of promise and I look forward to reading more from Anna Lawrence Pietroni.

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9 Comments

  1. carol says:

    This sounds inviting.
    I do love historical fiction and this looks different to any I have read before….adding to wishlist as I type.

    thanks for the review

    enjoy ur weekend

    carol

  2. Iris says:

    It sounds good, while I am not one to usually want to read books with a fantasy element the premise sounds lovely. I am sorry if it is not as sharp as it could have been. But I’ll be looking forward to reading anything by Pietroni nonetheless (who knows, maybe her next book will be even better?)

  3. admin says:

    Carol, it is very different and I loved the dialect. I didn’t even know where the Black Country was until I looked it up!

  4. admin says:

    Iris, I think she’s definitely one to watch.

  5. Stephanie says:

    I am really drawn in by the cover and title. I am definitely a bit skeptical of the fantasy elements though. It sounds like an interesting book!

  6. I agree with you. I thought this was such an original, atmospheric read, but I think it would have been better if a little bit had been cut out.

    I think there was a lot of symbolism in this book that went over my head and so I’m sure a study guide would help my appreciation. I wonder if they’ll ever make one?!

  7. Stephanie, there isn’t too much fantasy, just small town mentality e.g. superstition, fear of change etc.

  8. Jackie, there is an awful lot going on but I think it’s better left to the individual reader to derive their own interpretations. It would be too much like hard work for me to follow a study guide. ;-)

  9. Luci says:

    Interestingly, there’s a reading group guide in the back of the Vintage paperback edition with a few bits and pieces for discussion.

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