Hello everyone and welcome back to The Bookworm’s Fantasy! I hope you’re all doing well. So recently, I got sent an ARC copy of Kate Hamer’s amazing second novel ‘The Doll Funeral’. I loved it so much that I just had to review it! Thanks so much to Faber & Faber for sending me an early copy. So, here’s my review…
** TRIGGER WARNING ** Non-graphic references to abuse (emotional and physical)
‘The Doll Funeral’ is Kate Hamer’s highly-anticipated second novel, due to be released on 16th February 2017. Her first novel, ‘The Girl In The Red Coat’, was released in December 2015, and was a tremendous success. It was shortlisted for the 2015 Costa First Novel Award and was a top ten bestseller. I reviewed ‘The Girl In The Red Coat’ here, so be sure to check that out.
So, after reading ‘The Girl In The Red Coat’ and loving it so much (it quickly became one of my all-time favourite books, in fact), I had pretty high hopes for ‘The Doll Funeral’. And it definitely did not disappoint. ‘The Doll Funeral’ is a dark, creepy tale, following the young girl Ruby as she faces so many difficulties. But it’s also a deeply emotional and moving read. It made me feel emotions I haven’t felt in a long time, and I would truly recommend this to everybody.
The novel centres around the protagonist Ruby, a 13-year-old girl who finds out she is adopted, and decides she wants to search for her birth parents. The novel is set in 1983, with flashbacks to the 1970s. Ruby is living a very tough life with her adoptive parents, suffering from both physical and emotional abuse. She is extremely lost and frightened in the world, and as a reader, you can’t help but feel so much sympathy towards her. She wanders the forest and she moves from home to home, experiencing suffering and loss every step of the way. My heart broke every time she suffered, and I just wanted to give her a big hug and tell her that everything would be okay eventually.
The narrative is told from the perspectives of Ruby, Anna (her birth mother) and Shadow. Ruby’s voice was definitely my favourite. Again, much like in ‘The Girl In The Red Coat’, Hamer convincingly captures the voice of a young child. Her voice is powerful and raw; exactly what you’d expect from a young girl living such a tough life. Having said that, I do believe that all the perspectives are equally valid and interesting, and each add a new dimension to the story.
I really loved Anna’s perspective too. The story flashes back to 1970 in order to tell Anna’s story. It’s easy to hate Anna at first for giving up her child and arguably subjecting her to all the hardship she is experiencing in the present. But at Anna’s story is revealed, I realised that there’s so much more to her character than I originally thought, and she also didn’t have an easy life. In the end, I ended up feeling so much sympathy for Anna, which I never anticipated at first. Hamer has a clear skill in her ability to peel back the layers of a character and reveal all their secrets.
I want to talk about the character Shadow. I found Shadow’s identity to be very ambiguous indeed, which I’m sure was Hamer’s intention. I had loads of questions in my head in relation to who he was: Was he an imaginary friend? A dead sibling? A guardian angel? But I came to the conclusion that we’re not supposed to know his identity specifically, and instead think of him as a lost soul and a guide for Ruby.
As with ‘The Girl In The Red Coat’, the story begins with lots of mystery and tension. As a reader, I was left questioning who Ruby really was and what her origins were. Hamer has a brilliant skill at creating an aura of mystery and speculation, and very slowly stripping back all the characters and revealing buried secrets. At times, I was a little confused as to what exactly was happening and where the story was going. However, every time I felt like this, Hamer pulled me back to my feet and cleared up any mystery for me. This book is quite slow-paced, more so than ‘The Girl In The Red Coat’, but eventually all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.
Much of the novel is set in a forest. I thought this was particularly interesting, and created a sense of spookiness and fear. I think the setting of the forest was brilliantly portrayed. Ruby finds sanctuary in this spooky forest and it’s her home; perhaps the only home she will ever belong in. To others, the forest is scary and should not be explored, but to Ruby, it’s her haven – a place where she can have an adventure, or hide in, or run to for comfort.
The ending of the novel was extremely sad. I definitely shed a few tears when it reached the final couple of chapters. I don’t want to give anything away here, so I’m not going to go into much detail about the ending. But let’s just say that Ruby reconnects with some important people in her life, and it’s a beautiful reunion.
Overall, this novel was extremely dark and twisted. Hamer keeps throwing us curveballs and keeps giving Ruby more and more hardship to deal with, which was quite difficult to read. I felt anger, upset, sympathy, fear and my heart broke over and over again reading this novel. But it’s also extremely emotional and extremely moving. At the end, the reader is given a sense of hope and beauty, which is definitely well needed! I absolutely loved every moment of this novel, and I already want to re-read it. I didn’t love it quite as much as ‘The Girl In The Red Coat’, but it definitely wasn’t far off. Another brilliant novel by Kate Hamer that I highly recommend – I can’t wait to read whatever she comes up with next!