The Mountain In My Shoe by Louise Beech (Orenda Books)

I’m very excited to be a part of the blog tour for The Mountain In My Shoe by the incredibly talented, Louise Beech.

Ever since I read How To Be Brave earlier in the year, I have been really looking forward to Louise Beech’s next novel. How To Be Brave is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. I have loved it and recommended to anyone who will listen (as my friends and family will attest). It was so stunningly written and so obviously from the heart that The Mountain In My Shoe was very eagerly awaited. I was so excited when it fell on my doorstep that I started reading it that very night.

The Mountain In My Shoe tells the stories of Bernadette, a woman who is getting ready to leave her controlling husband, and Conor, a 10 year old boy who has had a very traumatic upbringing, being shipped from foster home to foster home while his mum decides if she is up to taking care of him. Bernadette is Conor’s volunteer friend through Befriend For Life, a volunteer service that provides a constant adult friend for children within the care system. Bernadette’s life-affirming change has to wait when she gets a call from Conor’s foster mum, Anne, to say that Conor is missing. At the same time, Bernadette’s usually prompt husband does not arrive home. Bernadette’s priorities are split as she wonders where her husband is whilst she is desperate to find Conor. Making Conor her priority, she tries to find him with Anne, her own life on hold while she finds the boy who has become her best friend.

The narrative is split three ways, with chapters from Bernadette and Conor’s point of view, as well as regular sections taken from Conor’s Lifebook, a book that is updated by anyone who has contact with Conor, such as social workers, foster parents, psychiatrists and Bernadette. The Lifebook is set up by the first social worker who worked on Conor’s case with a view to giving the book to Conor when he is 18, so that he can read where he has come from, what people thought of him and why decisions were made about his life that perhaps he was too young to understand at the time. The book has gone missing from Bernadette’s bookshelf and she is trying to find it when she gets the call from Anne. This narrative style, split between the formality of the Lifebook, Bernadette’s adult viewpoint and Conor’s “ten-going on twenty-one” view is particularly effective in tugging at the heartstrings of the reader.

The chapters about Bernadette move the story along and give some insight into why she is leaving her husband and how she came to be Conor’s friend in the first place. Conor’s chapters are in first person narrative which read beautifully as Conor’s innocence clashes with his experiences of hard times. He is a cheeky chappy with a heart of gold and a knowledge of life that is sadly far too advanced for a boy of his age. The reader cannot help but want to give him hug, despite knowing that he’d probably brush them off with an expletive!

However, it is the effect of “The Book” that had me in tears at regular intervals. As we get to know Conor, we learn of his experiences at various foster homes, tragedies that have befallen him along the way, and the importance of Bernadette in his life. The Lifebook elements also allows the reader to separate fact from emotional responses. It adds considerable authenticity as the formal reports are paralleled with the individual character narratives.

As with How To Be Brave, Louise Beech has woven stories together beautifully to give an exceedingly rich, emotionally charged narrative that moves the reader more and more with each chapter. Her ability to switch the narrative voice to suit each character is truly magnificent, from Conor’s ten-year-old cheeky confidence to the formality of the social workers, the colloquial rhetoric of Conor’s mum to the tender, caring narrative of Bernadette. Each character is so defined, that their stories speak through their choice of vocabulary.

I loved this book, just as I loved How To Be Brave. Both books are quite different in their style and plot yet both books are sad and optimistic at the same time, leaving you smiling through your inevitable tears at the end. Louise Beech’s characters are so lovely and the reader will undoubtedly champion them from the beginning to the end. The overwhelming feeling I felt at the end of both books was just how perfect they were, in terms of providing a fulfilling reading experience and how I would not change a single thing about either, which is quite rare. There is always usually something, however small, that the reader thinks could have been different, but not with these books. To have one book be so special is a wonderful achievement, but to have two is amazing. Louise Beech is well on her way to having a second critically acclaimed novel. Of that, I have no doubt.