Book Reviews


MY DAUGHTER‘ BY VAL P GOULD
Reviewed by Ann Harrison-Brooks Editor of The Sandwich Society Magazine

Sandwich-based writer, Val Gould, has published two more novels since I reviewed her fourth work of fiction, Sickle Moon, in last year’s Journal. Once more, she has chosen an interesting narrative structure.

My Daughter was written during the lockdowns of 2020, the first year of the Coronavirus pandemic. In her Acknowledgements the author thanks her sister, Cheryl Culver PPPS RBA, for urging her to start another novel and adds that:

Without this purpose to occupy my mind and hands, I may have been forced to retrieve the vacuum cleaner from the back of the cupboard.

I think we can be glad that she left the vacuum cleaner where it belonged.

The story begins with a third person narrator describing one of the two protagonists, Bill, who we meet in 1945. Chapter Two is set in a later period and introduces the reader to the second main character, Beth. It is told in the first person so that we see Bill, her father, through her teenage eyes and we learn about the way in which she sees the world. This narrative device increases the reader’s curiosity and draws you in. One of the things we learn is that Beth is increasingly curious to know more about her absent mother and so, as readers, are we. Thus, we share Beth’s desire to know more and follow her in her pursuit of information. We wince as we witness her awkwardness in negotiating her way through the mystery.

Chapter Four returns to Bill in 1945, when he is still trying to come to terms with the personal loss that the War has brought him. Subsequent sections take us back to 1939 and the beginning of his friendship with the man who was to become his closest companion. We read of their wartime experience and begin to see what sort of a man Bill is.

Thereafter, the narrative shifts between Bill and Beth’s lives and the people who become embroiled in their story. We find ourselves having to make some moral judgements about the events that take place and those caught up in them.

The novel appears to be based on a traditional ‘Lost, found, and lost again plus final resolution’ plot shape but as we near the story’s climax, we realise the author is not afraid to stare some old ‘taboos’ straight in the face.

The determined, feisty nature of Beth is portrayed convincingly. The author chooses some effective language to show us how Beth feels, for example, her description of Beth’s frustration and feeling of powerlessness as she fails to wrestle information about her past from her father:

I made up my mind that I was going to get the truth from him if it killed me. Not only have I always felt like a shadow in my own life but now I began to feel as though I didn’t exist at all. Like a little figurine in a cabinet, there but not alive enough to talk to or confide in (p 183).

Her sister, Cheryl, an artist who has provided the artwork for the cover of this novel, feels that Val “has an artist’s eye for visual detail. Her descriptive passages are as good as a painting.”

The use of a ‘see-saw’ narrative, constantly shifting between viewpoint and time, keeps the reader curious and engaged and enables the writer to hold back certain details in order to increase the suspense.

As the story progresses, only one other section is focused on a character other than Bill and Beth, and this occurs towards the end and is part of the final revelatory denouement.

THOSE WHO LIE BENEATH BY VAL P GOULD

Val Gould’s sixth, and most recent, novel was published in April 2021 and, in my view, is her best yet. It is unusual in that one of the main characters is inanimate (or is it?). I am referring to a humble neglected cottage and garden, which Alex, a key protagonist, decides to bring back to life. Then there is also the character of Bess and her impact on the story for the reader to ponder on.

The book’s frontispiece sets the tone with a quotation from Shakespeare followed by a short extract from the novel that is to follow:

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” – Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5

“I stood on the boundary of my garden with my back to the hedge and surveyed the project in front of me. The air was full of the scent of warm grass, the perfume of nature in all its uncultivated glory. I breathed deeply and looked around me. From the hedge on the boundary to the walls of the house the undergrowth was eye high, and rambling briar roses entwined like lovers spread themselves along the blackthorn branches. Dragonflies and bees hovered or worked busily amongst the plentiful harvest and a tiny wren, its beak full of grubs, disappeared into its beautifully formed nest in the overgrown hawthorn hedge beside me.”

Alex is totally absorbed in the restoration of this garden, captivated by its charms. We see how it exerts a hold over his life. The novel begins with his first-person narrative, which continues until the third chapter, when we are introduced to his step-brother David. The narrative continues in his voice and this sets the pattern for the rest of the book: the narrative oscillating between Alex and David.

As the story unfolds we encounter a death that might have been a murder, a definite murder, a case of manslaughter and so on. As with Val Gould’s previous novels, there is an exploration of a broken family. We see events through two opposing characters’ eyes, which makes them feel more immediate. The author is adept at conveying individuals’ brokenness and where it leads them.

The double meaning of the book’s title hints at the author’s interest in people’s stories and the difficulty of locating where the truth lies especially when the characters hardly know themselves. Equally, the author is exploring what lies beneath the surface appearance of things and how it is not possible to explain the inexplicable, although one feels compelled to try.

Note:

My Daughter (2020, ISBN: 978-0-9555869-7-2) and Those Who Lie Beneath (2021, ISBN: 978-0-9555869-9-6) are designed and published by Michael Pennamacoor of AbgrundBooks (Sandwich, Kent). They can be purchased for £12.00 and £8.00 respectively direct from the author at her shop: Val Gould Gallery and Framing in Harnet Street, Sandwich, CT13 9ES, telephone 01304 611104, email valeriepgould@gmail.com. If posted, p&p will be extra. Alternatively, you can buy these, and her previous, novels online via the relevant link below.

Catalyst http://www.lulu.com/content/paperback-book/catalyst/15000723

Legacy http://www.lulu.com/shop/val-p-gould/legacy/ebook/product-23255651.html

Legacy http://www.lulu.com/shop/val-p-gould/legacy/paperback/product-23122019.html

How It All Began http://lulu.com/content/paperback-book/how-it-all-began/245520432

Sickle Moon hhtp://lulu.com/shop/val-p-gould/sickle-moon/paperback/product-24428888.html

My Daughter

Those Who Lie Beneath