Van has finished reading… The Doll Funeral by Kate Hamer

17 Oct

Faber & FaberKate Hamer’s debut, The Girl In The Red Coat, is one of the few books I’ve read that impelled me to keep on reading. The very urgency of the story kept me turning the pages, whereas my preference is to slow it down when I’m really into a story, to really relish the experience. With it also making my top ten reads for last year, I was really excited to receive a copy of Kate Hamer’s new novel, The Doll Funeral (for which my especial thanks go to Sophie Portas at Faber). The Doll Funeral doesn’t disappoint.

Comparison between a debut and a follow-up novel is inevitable, though in the case of The Doll Funeral it’s almost unavoidable. Kate Hamer treads similar ground in that we have a young protagonist who is sensitive beyond the conventional. There are challenging family relationships and unusual alliances. The sense of place too could bear comparison, that heavy lean toward the fairy tale, the sense that nothing would be too surprising in the world her characters populate.

That said, it is a very different book. Although the story is fantastical at times its roots are fiercely realistic, not a pinch of Disney dust in sight. It’s all in the characters, and Ruby is great. Intrepid when she feels the need, scared and childlike when she should be, wistful, dreamy and needy when she’d dearly love to be otherwise. And as for Ruby’s awareness, it’s never overplayed, or played for a cheap shock. Her relationship with Shadow is as natural as any friendship at that age, breezing in and out of favour. She’s a protagonist to cheer for, and to fear for too. It’s a similar thing with Anna, the earlier of the two timelines in the book, though in her case it’s much more about the how and the why of events, rather than what actually happened. Of course that doesn’t make it any less heart-breaking. In both cases the people who hold sway over these two lives are complete, rounded individuals who are – in some cases – horribly believable.

I’m pleased to say I was able to take my time with the Doll Funeral. Rather than the driven, cranked-up tension of The Girl In The Red Coat that hits you on page one and leaves you feeling delightfully bereft at the end, The Doll Funeral gives us a subtler, creeping sort of tension. It’s not obvious but it’s always there, inexorable. The two timelines complement each other really well and although it’s quite apparent how they relate, Kate Hamer brings them together with subtlety, clueing you in to what she really wants to tell you without drawing big arrows that scream backstory. Everyone and everything is there for a reason and though the myriad possibilities might well have you guessing, nothing that actually happens feels out of place. It’s nicely done.

 

The Doll Funeral is a worthy successor to the furore that surrounded Kate Hamer’s debut, and definitely leaves me eager to see what she’ll come up with next.

 

The Doll Funeral will be published by Faber & Faber on 16th February 2017 ISBN: 9780571313853

You can find Kate Hamer on Twitter @kate_hamer

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