Ghost Moon by Ron Butlin

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Ghost Moon by Ron Butlin

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A beautifully touching story about past attitudes, family secrets and the power of love both romantic and filial. Alexander McCall Smith calls it powerful and compelling; I would add 'brilliant' to that.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: April 2014
Publisher: Salt Publishing
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1907773778

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Maggie sits in an elderly persons' care home trying to exist through the ever tightening grip of dementia. Her son, Tom, visits trying to jog her memory but she doesn't recognise him. To Maggie, Tom is 'Michael' a name that means nothing to a son becoming more desperate to break through to his mother once again. However there was once a Michael, in a life that simmers with secrets that even Tom doesn't know; for once, long ago, Maggie was young and Maggie was in trouble.

Scottish poet and author Ron Butlin has acquired a heap (technical term there) of accolades during an illustrious career. He's the current Edinburgh Makar (poet laureate), alongside Ian Rankin he was the first Writing Fellow at Edinburgh University, he writes opera libretti… To think I haven't come across him before Ghost Moon! I am now kicking myself and mean to make amends for my ignorance as, from what we see in this novel, it seems he's rather brilliant.

Ghost Moon has three distinct threads, each separated by cleverly subtle changes of tense without destroying the feel or the flow of the story. (Those out there mumbling about not liking a tense fiddler, please try it anyway – you may be surprised!)

Firstly there are enthralling insights into a deteriorating mind as Maggie sits in a nursing home. Here the only familiar names are those she takes from the past to superimpose on a present that no longer makes sense to her. We often refer to those with dementia not making sense to us, but Ron gives us an inside track, demonstrating how vice versa is just as true; perhaps more importantly so.

The second strand is Tom's visit and efforts to communicate with his mother through the language of her past history. Tom doesn't realise that not all his mother's comments are gibbering just as he doesn't know that his version of history is far from complete.

We travel in this direction with Maggie in the third thread: her life and struggles as a single pregnant young woman. This thread is set in 1950; Maggie is a social pariah as she carries her son, an accident originating from belief and hope rather than a symptom of wantonness. There are also vignettes that seem almost Dickensian. I won't spoil it for you but many (like the children's home) will increase your blood pressure.

We're left feeling warmed rather than depressed though. Ron has a lyrical command of language that touches us while uniting us in horror with young Maggie, in frustration with Tom and grinning at the twinkle of elderly Maggie. During her lucid moments she's a canny old dear! Maggie's also someone we want to know rather than shy away from and the more we know the more she becomes we want to hug her right off the page.

This may be a short, compact novel but the slim tome is miraculously obese with feelings, life and a story that must have been repeated over and over during the last 50-plus years. Indeed this is how Ron makes a difference: before Ghost Moon I didn't fully understand the effects of the 'moral society' of the 50s that many still hark back to but now I do. Perhaps I'm not the only one.

A huge thank you to Salt Publishing for providing us with a copy for review. We also have a review of Butlin's Steve and Frandan Take on the World.

Further reading: If you've enjoyed this, we're pretty sure you'll also love The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence.

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Buy Ghost Moon by Ron Butlin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Ghost Moon by Ron Butlin at

Booklists.jpg Ghost Moon by Ron Butlin is in the Top Ten Literary Fiction Books of 2014.


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