Crouch, Julia - 'Tarnished'
Twenty-two-year-old Peg lives with her girlfriend Loz in London, but makes regular trips down to Tankerton (near Whitstable) to keep an eye on her grandmother Doll, and her auntie Jean. They both live in a bungalow, converted by her long dead grandfather, so that Doll lives on one side, and Jean on the other, with a connecting door and intercom system. The reason for this is that Jean is 'handicapped', and needs looking after by Doll (and her husband, when he was alive) but also needs her own space. In truth, she has become so grotesquely fat that she is now confined to her bed, and has to have outside help in for washing and dressing, as well as attention from Doll. But, on Peg's latest visit, Doll seems to be showing her age, and perhaps the first signs that her mind is beginning to wander. Doll finds it hard to recognize Peg, and starts talking about past events that Peg knows nothing about, mentioning that she misses someone called Keithy. Jean tells Peg that Keithy is Doll's son, who died when he was just two years old, and confides that her brother Raymond, Peg's father, himself only a child at the time, pushed him into the water so that he drowned. Peg is shocked. She knows so little about her father, not even where he lives. She went to boarding school from about the age of six, just after her mother died, and she can barely remember her father at all, or indeed, any of the events that happened to her before she was about ten years old. And so begins a journey, where, along with Peg, we gradually discover the secrets behind her sad childhood, and her dysfunctional family as she finds her father, researches his past and starts to remember what happened to her when she was young.
TARNISHED is well paced, with the gradual drip-feed of returning memories sitting nicely side by side with Peg's research, enabling the reader to work out what's happening just slightly ahead of Peg. Small but key events occur to drive the story along, such as Peg discovering that her father lives in Spain, and after meeting him and hearing a chance remark from his current wife, she is able to find out more about the past from searching through newspapers. An accident that lands Doll in hospital gives Peg the opportunity to clean up Doll's side of the bungalow, and as a result, she is able to uncover some old revealing photos. Peg's character gradually transforms from the obedient, conflict averse, granddaughter to a strong woman, obsessed with finding out the truth no matter what. Loz, her girlfriend, is a strong foil to Peg, giving her the much needed love and support Peg needs to pursue her research and change her life. The characters of Doll and Peg are equally well drawn, with just the right balance between seemingly caring and loving on the surface but with a hint of something potentially malevolent underneath. All of this makes for a really engaging book, where one finds oneself really rooting for Peg and her search for the truth, and gave me the perfect opportunity to spend a lazy Bank Holiday morning reading an excellent book.
Michelle Peckham, England