Closed Doors

Closed Doors

4.5 2
by Lisa O'Donnell

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A young boy on a small Scottish island where everyone knows everything about everyone else, will discover that a secret is a dangerous thing in this tense and brilliant tale of from Lisa O'Donnell, the bestselling author of The Death of Bees, winner of the 2013 Commonwealth Book Prize.

Eleven-year-old Michael Murray is the best at two things:


A young boy on a small Scottish island where everyone knows everything about everyone else, will discover that a secret is a dangerous thing in this tense and brilliant tale of from Lisa O'Donnell, the bestselling author of The Death of Bees, winner of the 2013 Commonwealth Book Prize.

Eleven-year-old Michael Murray is the best at two things: keepy-uppies and keeping secrets. His family thinks he's too young to hear grown-up stuff, but he listens at doors; it's the only way to find out anything. And Michael's heard a secret, one that might explain the bruises on his mother's face.

When the whispers at home and on the street become too loud to ignore, Michael begins to wonder if there is an even bigger secret waiting to be discovered. Scared of what might happen if anyone finds out, and desperate for life to be normal again, Michael sets out to piece together the truth. But he also has to prepare for the upcoming talent show, keep an eye out for Dirty Alice, his arch-nemesis, and avoid eating Granny's watery stew.

Closed Doors is a vivid evocation of the fears and freedoms of childhood and a powerful tale of love, the loss of innocence, and the importance of family in difficult times.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Andrew Ervin
…dazzling…O'Donnell won the prestigious Commonwealth Book Prize last year with The Death of Bees, a first novel that deftly balanced the morbid with the mundane, a talent that remains on full display here…Like Roddy Doyle's Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha and Black Swan Green, by David Mitchell, O'Donnell's novel effectively evokes the carefree joys of adolescence as well as all of its terrors, real and imagined…It's not revealing too much to say that O'Donnell wraps up Closed Doors in a way that feels both unpredictable and inevitable. It's a fitting end to a moving story that stakes a lasting, and disturbing, emotional claim on her readers.
Publishers Weekly
O’Donnell’s second novel (after The Death of Bees) is narrated by Michael Murray, an 11-year-old boy living with his parents and grandmother on a small island off the coast of Scotland during the Thatcher era. Early on, something terrible happens to Michael’s mother, Rosemary; he’s told that she fell down while running away from a flasher. Michael is spared the truth and initially accepts the explanation he’s given, but O’Donnell leaves plenty of clues suggesting that something tragic has occurred. In one of the novel’s most striking moments, Michael, desperate to make sense of his mother’s descent into depression and his father’s increasing anger over the crime, combs through dictionary entries of words he’s overheard his parents use while arguing. Though O’Donnell creates a powerful voice for her young protagonist, she is less than fair to Rosemary, whose fear that telling the truth would open her up to victim blaming is presented as simply a source of pain to others, rather than as a legitimate concern. Agent: Alex Christofi, Corville and Walsh (U.K.). (June)
New York Times
“Writing in a child’s voice is risky, but Lisa O’Donnell pulls it off in her second novel. . . . Ms. O’Donnell avoids triteness in this story of lost innocence, favoring candor and dark humor in the aftermath of violence.”
The New York Times Book Review
“A dazzling new novel. . . . A moving story that stakes a lasting, and disturbing, emotional claim on O’Donnell’s readers.”
Sunday Times (London)
“There’s loss of innocence here, but the overwhelming tone is warm and sparky; O’Donnell shows how a shattered family can remake itself, and Michael’s narrative voice is delightful—observant, thoughtful, comical, and thoroughly believable.”
Scotland on Sunday
“[O’Donnell] has fashioned yet another humane and compulsive read, grounded in a realism which, depicted through a child’s eyes—with that hint of a child’s surreal perception—gathers together violence, humor, and love in a most believable way.”
Big Issue
Closed Doors demonstrates just as much skill, empathy and insight as its predecessor….Closed Doors is all about the voice—Michael’s 11-year-old world is entirely convincing….a hugely accomplished and engaging piece of storytelling.”
Karen Campbell
“Sweet and sad, this is a coming-of-age story with dark secrets—and love—at its heart.”
Kitty Aldridge
“A skillfully told story of a boy’s struggle to come to terms with family secrets and their potentially terrible consequences. A sharp, witty, and heartbreaking second novel from a dynamic new talent.”
Booklist (starred review)
“An engaging page-turner that effectively explores the trials and tribulations of childhood with warmth and humor.”
Library Journal
As in The Death of Bees, a 2013 Commonwealth Book Prize winner, O'Donnell looks at adult misbehavior through the eyes of a child. Eleven-year-old Michael Murray has peered behind enough doors to know why his mother's face is often bruised, but he suspects that more secrets await him. With a 35,000-copy first printing.
From the Publisher
"Sweet and sad, this is a coming-of-age story with dark secrets-and love-at its heart." —Karen Campbell, author of This Is Where I Am

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.20(w) x 5.80(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

Lisa O'Donnell's debut novel, The Death of Bees, was the winner of the Commonwealth Book Prize. She won the Orange Prize for New Screenwriters for her screenplay The Wedding Gift. She lives in Scotland.

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Closed Doors 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent and funny and sad and real and raw and simply wonderful
Twink More than 1 year ago
I adored Lisa O'Donnell's debut novel The Death of Bees. And so did a lot of others - O'Donnell was the winner of The Commonwealth Book Prize. When I heard she had a new novel - Closed Doors - I jumped at the chance to read it. O'Donnell has again set her novel in the recent past. Closed Doors takes place in the early 1980's on a small Scottish island where eleven year old Michael Murray lives with his mother Rosemary, his unemployed father Brian and his Granny. Michael is busy practicing his 'keepie-uppies' for the talent show the neighbourhood kids are going to put on, arguing with his arch nemesis Dirty Alice and keeping an eye on what goes on in his bit of the world. But when his mother comes home from work bruised and bleeding, he's sent to his room. Why won't his ma go to the police? Why is he told to tell the neighbours she fell down the stairs? What happened to her? Confused and worried, Michael needs to know what happened to her and what is going on. "I listen at doors now. It's the only way to find out stuff. No one tells me anything." Life has changed drastically for the Murray family. As adult readers, we know what has happened to Rosemary. And as adults, it is heartbreaking to watch Michael try to make sense of things. He continues to listen at doors, hearing bits and pieces and being told half truths as the family struggles to keep things quiet. But gossip in a small town cannot be contained and when another woman is hurt, there can be no more secrets. O'Donnell has created yet another wonderful child narrator in Michael. His voice is real, running the gamut of emotions. There is a sense of innocence in the children of this island. Part of it is the insular nature of island living, part of it is the time period used. I can't imagine this same story being told in present day. O'Donnell has chosen time and place well - it absolutely works. The loss of that innocence makes Closed Doors a coming of age tale in so many ways. "It's terrible to know too many things about people. It makes you feel like a liar because you have to act like you know nothing at all when the truth is you know everything there is to know." "Lies make people happy, I think, and that's why people tell them, not to hurt or anger anyone, but to keep them safe from the truth, except our lie, the lie Ma and Da and Granny are telling to themselves and everyone else around them, it is the worst of lies and it is making no one happy and when lies don't make you happy, you have to wonder what will happen nest. O'Donnell also deftly explores family and family dynamics in Closed Doors. What secrets would you keep to protect your family? And at what cost? Closed Doors is another great read from a talented wordsmith. I'll be waiting for book number three.