A Small Part of Me by Noelle Harrison

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A Small Part of Me by Noelle Harrison

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Fairhead
Reviewed by Sue Fairhead
Summary: Christina, who has not seen her mother since she was six years old, is now separated from her own children. She embarks on a search that takes her on unexpected paths to a bittersweet conclusion.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: May 2006
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN: 978-1405046534

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This book engaged me right from the first sentence: "The day her mother left was the same day that the Reed family drowned in the river, all of them."

The Reed family, as is quickly established, are imaginary people made from reeds. Christina is a small girl of six years and ten months (oh, how important the extra months are at that age!); yet the departure of her mother is forever tied up in her mind with the loss of a few playthings she has just created. She is comforted by Angeline, someone whose presence is rather ambiguous but becomes clearer through the book.

The structure of the book is a little confusing at first, switching as it does between Christina's childhood and her adult life when she herself, separated from her husband, has only limited access to her beloved children. It also changes viewpoint, mainly - in the early part of the book - that of Christina herself and her absent mother Greta. The chapters are short, labelled only with the person whose perspective is being taken for the next few pages; the time-frame for each can only be told from context.

For someone who likes clear chronology, this might be annoying, as the story constantly switches between past and present. Moreover the past is often introduced in the present tense, and some of it, in Greta's voice, takes place before the opening of the novel. There were occasions when I found myself flicking back a few pages to remind myself where a certain point of view had reached, and even once or twice when I was impatient enough to peek forward to see what would happen next for a particular viewpoint character. But the structure of the book is well-planned; the past gradually becomes clearer as the present moves forward.

I found it very readable, the kind of book I kept picking up when I had a few moments free. Although I haven't been in the same circumstances, I felt - as almost any mother would feel - some of the pain and confusion Christina has gone through, and the deep need to be with her children. When she embarks on a search across the Atlantic for her long-lost mother, she also begins an internal search for her own identity. There are some moving, bittersweet moments, and a climax to the book which I didn't expect - yet it worked, making room for Christina's growing understanding of who she is, and who she cares about.

It's a gentle book on the whole, character-driven and relationship-centred with strong themes involving motherhood, and the imprint our childhood leaves on our adult lives. Yet there are also underlying deeper themes: of mental illness, and addictions, as well as the pain of being abandoned, and the hurt that often comes from the breakup of the nuclear family.

If you like books with strong family relationship elements, you might like Uphill all the Way and if you enjoy books with multiple viewpoints where the past gradually unfolds along with the present, then Things to Make and Mend or Love in the Present Tense have similar construction.

Our thanks to the publishers for sending this book.

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Buy A Small Part of Me by Noelle Harrison at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Small Part of Me by Noelle Harrison at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy A Small Part of Me by Noelle Harrison at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Small Part of Me by Noelle Harrison at Amazon.com.


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