The Doll Funeral by Kate Hamer
Published in 2017 by Faber & Faber
My copy: Advance review copy
*** Thank you to the publisher for the early copy of the book ***
My name is Ruby. I live with Barbara and Mick. They’re not my real parents, but they tell me what to do, and what to say. I’m supposed to say that the bruises on my arms and the black eye came from falling down the stairs.
But there are things I won’t say. I won’t tell them I’m going to hunt for my real parents. I don’t say a word about Shadow, who sits on the stairs, or the Wasp Lady I saw on the way to bed.
I did tell Mick that I saw the woman in the buttercup dress, hanging upside down from her seat belt deep in the forest at the back of our house. I told him I saw death crawl out of her. He said he’d give me a medal for lying.
I wasn’t lying. I’m a hunter for lost souls and I’m going to be with my real family. And I’m not going to let Mick stop me.
If I had to sum this book up in just one word, that word would be: weird. There are lots of spooky things happening, which are only enhanced by the forest setting of much of the novel, but actually I wonder how much the book benefited from its cast of ghosts…
Ruby is delighted when she finds out, on her 13th birthday, that she is adopted. The man she believed to be her real father is violent and abusive, and her adopted mother, while loving towards Ruby, still does nothing to stop the abuse. Ruby’s escape route is the forest, where she comes alive and feels at home, and is often joined by Shadow, a ghostly figure that has a personality all of his own.
Ruby ends up making some real friends eventually, and enrols their help in finding her real parents. In the meantime, we also get short flashbacks to the 1970s, where we find out more about Ruby’s real roots.
I liked the two strands of the novel, and it was hard not to feel for poor Ruby, who has had a pretty miserable life. Her new friends are also intriguing, and their relationship is nicely portrayed. I also liked the sections set in the 70s – although short, they gave us an insight into where Ruby came from, and why she ended up with adoptive parents.
But it was the ghostly elements of the novel that sometimes felt like wrong turnings for me. They were at times confusing, and actually took away from the main story. There was more than enough going on for there to be no need to add to this, and if all the supernatural elements were taken away – or at least played down – I think there is more than enough here for a brilliant novel in its own right. While the ghosts added an unearthly weirdness to the novel, and made it a bit different, I did feel sometimes this was at the expense of the actual story, and it did feel forced at times. On occasions, the ghosts did tell stories that added to the plot, but this could quite easily have been done via real characters within the book! There are also other parts of the storyline that weren’t very believable or didn’t quite add up.
There was a lot I did like about this book – the characters are intriguing and I loved the spooky forest setting. But the addition of the ghosts seemed, in the main, unnecessary and some parts of the story just didn’t quite work for me.