Monday, 30 July 2018

The Trick to Time

I have loved 'The Trick to Time' by Kit De Waal; it is an intimate portrait of a woman, both young and older, and how she copes with love and loss. Mona makes dolls. In her earlier life she had a husband, but you sense from the beginning that things took a tragic turn for them. The story follows her current life, a budding romance with a gentleman neighbour, her motherly affection for her assistant Joely, and a strange oblique relationship with the carpenter who makes her dolls. Other chapters take us back to her youth, her  arrival from Ireland and her whirlwind romance with the charming William.
I liked Mona, and then sometimes I didn't. She is quite old fashioned and somewhat unreflective, but she is also loyal and devoted. She likes things to be just so, which explains the perfectionism she exhibits when she creates her dolls, reusing old fabrics for their clothes and even real hair collected by a local hairdresser. Here she is discovering the joy of creating when she is pregnant:

"By the time she is eight months pregnant Mona has made, in various shades of yellow, lilac, cream and white, seven romper suits, two cot blankets, four bonnets, a quilted coat, a christening gown, two pairs of linen dungarees, and three sleepsuits. then she gives up work and begins to knit as well. She sits on the bus to and from the community centre and works on a cardigan or shawl, she knits while she watched television with William in the evening and knits and knits until her fingers ache or her eyes close.
She keeps everything in a wooden box under the bed. The box is also handmade, painted white with a little rocking horse engraved on the side. Later, she will paint the baby's name and date of birth on the top.
One Thursday before she leaves for her class she pulls the box out and examines the stock she has built up. Everything is perfect. Now Mona can say she has a bottom drawer. Yes, she has a bottom drawer and she has beautiful things that can be passed down from her children to their children, handmade garments, heirlooms that, one day, someone will touch and say 'My granny made this in 1974'. the thought fills her with joy and peace." (p.130-1)

What is lovely about the book is Mona's relationships that are so beautifully drawn. Her mother died when she was young and she is consequently very close to her father; it is from him that she learns the lesson about the trick to time. Here she comes home from school on the day her mother has died:

"She finds her father there holding his head, howling like a banshee, his mouth wide open and his throat swollen with the effort of making a noise loud and deep enough to argue with the waves and the injustice of life. Mona stands by him and takes his hand. The scream together until they are fetched back by someone, until they are sitting down in the best room, like visitors in their own home, saved tea from the special china and fruit cake smothered with butter. Mona and her father sit hand in hand until everyone leaves, then he puts his arm round her, nestles her into his chest.
'We had her for a long time,' he says, 'longer than they said. And we loved her to the end.'
'Yes, Dadda, we did.'
'It was a precious time, Mona.'
'Is that the trick, Dadda?'
He says nothing for a long, long time then wipes his sleeve across his face.
'Yes, Mona, it is.'
In the days that follow after the mother and wife is taken away, they often walk down to the beach and round the Forlorn Point to cry with the sea, and afterwards she shows him how to play, how to make dolls from seashells and stones, seven or eight at a time, until her father says, 'Come on, lovely girl. Time to go home.'
And he does make it a home. By the time Mona is twelve, she's nearly forgotten what it is to have a mother. Her father keeps the house almost by himself, tidies and cooks, sweeps the flags from front to back, moves ornaments to dust beneath them, and Mona doesn't have to help if she doesn't want to. But she always does and they change sheets either side of the bed, bash the dust from the rugs, clean the windows and boil the ham as a team, her father six feet four inches, and Mona small and quick." (p.31-32)

But Mona is not all she appears, what is the strange ritual with the wooden babies, is her life really guided by chance as she tells people or she is in this little seaside town for a reason. She is a little stuck in a rut, but changes are coming that will force her to confront the trauma of the past. A lovely, lovely book that deals with its subject matter sensitively.

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