Undercurrents of abuse and its inevitable impact on mental health run like a negative charge through this south London story of fear, isolation and gradual re-birth as Helen endures a seemingly interminable emotional blackout before the lights flicker into life again as she is re-united with her daughter and grandchildren. Up until this point Helen had drifted in the shadows with the forgotten underclass; an insignificant and lost soul who had blurred into the inner city greyness of her tower block apartment, trapped by the unspeakable secrets of her childhood.
Alex Morrall’s writing style, often filled with the dread of the unsaid, subtly captures Helen’s belief that to remain unharmed by her past she must fade into the background but it’s the arrival of Lily that re-ignites the spark of life that sees her emerge from her concrete cocoon to embrace the possibilities of a new beginning. As the reasons for Helen’s perilous mental state gradually unravel the narrative pace, at times, can appear ponderous but this in many ways reflects the inertia she has wrapped herself in as she fears that opening up to Lily will lead to her slipping back into the darkness of her past.
Her eldest grandchild, Aisha, is the beacon of hope and truth who mirrors what could have been for Helen and in who she, in turn, seeks to cover with a protective blanket of love while at the same time hiding behind her embattled innocence as she fights for the safety of her family no matter how painful the likely outcome.
Ultimately this is a story about belonging. In order to understand who we can be we need to understand where we came from and by doing so be able to integrate with society rather than occupy the role of perennial outsider. For much of her life Helen remains hidden until her grandbees show her that to take the sting out of life we need to reveal ourselves.
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