The Lip by Charlie Carroll

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The Lip by Charlie Carroll

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: A delightfully easy read that is laced with powerful themes around friendship, childhood, mental health, the reality of life in a tourist hot-spot, secrets and public opinion.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: March 2021
Publisher: Two Roads
ISBN: 978-1529334173

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Melody Janie Rowe even the name is evocative of…probably of whatever we want it to be, and maybe that's the point. To me the name sings of English folk music, but even in my use of that word English, I know I'm putting an emmet take on things. And Melody Janie Rowe is anti-emmet.

Emmet is a word that some Cornish people pejoratively use for the tourists and incomers who swarm over their land during the bright summer months and leave it desolate in the off-season, having priced the locals out of housing and, by analogy (or consequence) out of their own community. There is an irony in that emmet is not the Kernewek word for ant, but that's not to be lain at the author's door – and nor does it really matter. It just strikes me as interesting – especially as moryonen might be somehow even more appropriate.

Melody Janie is alone now, and she needs to protect her land. Her tiny piece of Cornwall is Bones Break on the north coast. She hides. She has a house and a Cafy but she lives in the caravan hidden in the woods. She walks at night to stand on the Lip, the cliff-top, looking down on where the body landed, in the dark sand. She hides during the day, in the bushes, under the cliff over-hangs, in all the secret spaces she has found where she can spy on the locals and tourists alike and hear what they might be plotting.

And she remembers.

The Lip is about what Melody Janie remembers…about growing up, about her Mum and her Dad and her Little Sister Lucy. There are happy memories. And there is a lot of fear and a lot of anger.

It is also about a complex meld of other things. It is about the Cornwall that lives under the tourist destination pretty pictures: the harshness of lives dependent upon seasonality, the pettiness and grudges that survive in communities that are close and/or closed-in, and seething resentment of feeling dependent upon a service industry that you wish you didn't need. Even in that, it allows there are those who love to be part of that service industry, that would choose to be there.

One of the many things Carroll does so well, is to seamlessly allow that there is always more than one side to every story. He uses complexity not as a plot-device but as background: this, he seems to say, is just how it is for some people.

The story also confronts the nature of mental health, from both the inside and the outside. It looks at friendship, especially school-girl friendships and how they do and/or don't survive into adulthood. It is a story about secrets and why we should tell them, and why sometimes we really should not. It is a book about trust, and what we choose to believe, and what we do with what we believe. It is about guilt and innocence.

It is a beautiful book and that builds very slowly to an ending, that I kept expecting but which kept retreating and reforming and becoming something else, like those waves you expect to break but don't until they've pulled back several times to gather more strength. When it came, when the wave finally broke, it took me with it.

Melody Janie lives alone in her caravan. Every day she goes to clean the Cafy, which is no longer open. She living off the store-cupboard food, bought in bulk a long time before, but the deep cold-store room smells very bad, and getting worse. She doesn't spend much time down there. Every day she walks to the Lip and looks out. She loves her land and the birds and the sea.

One day she meets a stranger, a weird old man, with a dog who is also strange. And everything changes.

The last time I read a book that affected me as much as this one it was The Loney which I reviewed for The Bookbag back in 2015 The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley and I am pleased to see what a success that one became. The Lip deserves to do as well. Read them both.

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