In the great tradition of Maggie O’Farrell, Matthew Quick and Anita Diamant, I can add Kay Langdale to the ‘people who have made me visibly weep in public’. This book, a thin little piece of deceptively simple and yet remarkably well articulated domestic fiction, is about the ways in which we heal each other, and the ways in which children can make everything better sometimes without even trying.
I don’t have kids, and I’ve never, until this last couple of months of volunteering with my local Brownie group, had much experience of being around young children. The evenings with the girls are now such a tonic to me, they bring me such joy. I don’t think I would understand the power of this book had I not experienced just how good being around happy, excited and positive little people can make me feel.
When Monica has the career opportunity of a lifetime she must leave her children, nine year old Ruby and eighteen month year old Luca, in the comfort and care of Wonder Husband Daniel whilst she lives in LA for four months. She employs the somewhat reluctant Ursula as housekeeper and childminder, wowed by her perfect references and seemingly inexhaustible knowledge of what children need to thrive-despite her having worked for the past twelve years for an elderly couple, and having no children herself.
Monica’s leaving her family may be the first plot point of interest, but this book isn’t about moralising arguments for or against working mothers. Monica and Daniel and their family set-up provide the frame which contains the main emotional journey: that of Ursula and Ruby.
As Ursula starts to work for the family, her story, her horrifyingly sad and tragic story, is slowly revealed. As her and Ruby slowly become friends, you can’t help but be touched by the transformation the relationship gives the woman. Ruby is just the most perfect little creation. It is a little Nanny McPhee meets The Hand That First Held Mine, but I can imagine a lot of readers getting pleasure from this book in a similar way to fans of Joanna Trollope or Kristin Hannah.
Not the most literary book I’ve ever read, and the emotional ‘reveal’ could have been played out for longer. but sweet and poignant and perfect for say a long train journey by yourself or an evening in by the fire. You might need someone to have a hug with afterwards though, just warning you.