“[Evokes] both Jeanette Winterson and Ian McEwan . . . an elegiac and uplifting novel about the indissoluble bonds between mothers and daughters, and a reminder of how the imagination can set you free.” — The Guardian
On Ruby’s thirteenth birthday, a wish she didn’t even know she had suddenly comes true: the couple who raised her aren’t her parents at all. Her real mother and father are out there somewhere, and Ruby becomes determined to find them.
Venturing into the forest with nothing but a suitcase and the company of her only true friend—the imaginary Shadow Boy—Ruby discovers a group of siblings who live alone in the woods. The children take her in, and while they offer the closest Ruby’s ever had to a family, Ruby begins to suspect that they might need her even more than she needs them. And it’s not always clear what’s real and what’s not—or who’s trying to help her and who might be a threat.
Told from shifting timelines, and the alternating perspectives of teenage Ruby; her mother, Anna; and even the Shadow Boy, The Doll Funeral is a dazzling follow-up to Kate Hamer’s breakout debut, The Girl in the Red Coat, and a gripping, exquisitely mysterious novel about the connections that remain after a family has been broken apart.
|Publisher:||Melville House Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||6.40(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Kate Hamer is the author of The Girl in the Red Coat, which was a Costa First Novel Award finalist, a Dagger Award finalist, an Amazon Best Book of the Year 2016 and a winner of the ELLE Lettres Readers’ Prize. She lives in Cardiff, Wales, with her husband and two children.
Read an Excerpt
The Doll Funeral
20 August 1983
I knew the moment that Mum called me something was going to happen. I heard it in her voice.
The open eye of the hall mirror watched as I came downstairs humming a nervous tune, my yolk yellow birthday blouse done right up to the neck and my brown cord skirt flicking against a knee scab.
The light from the open kitchen doorway, where my parents waited, puddled onto the dirty carpet in the hall.
On the Formica table was the birthday cake. It had white icing, Smarties, and thirteen candles. A big triangle wedge had been cut out and the sharp carving knife lay close by, pointing into the gap.
I blinked. I’d expected punishment for some minor crime committed, a cup broken or left unwashed. The back door left open or closed or whichever way my father didn’t want it that day. But instead it seemed my mum and dad had turned into dolls or puppets: hard lines had appeared, running from their noses to their chins. Mum’s cheeks were blotched with anxious red paint, corkscrew curls exploding from her head. Dad was strung stiffly behind her in his grey felt jacket. His arm came up and swiped at his nose. Mum jiggled, her shoes clacking menacingly on the lino.
Her jaw opened. ‘Ruby. Now, we don’t want you to create a scene or start trouble but it’s time you knew.’
From behind her Dad said, in that furred up voice of someone who’s kept quiet for a bit, ‘Yes. Thirteen is old enough.’
On the cake between us, the Smarties had started to leak sharp colours—as if they were flies that had got trapped there and were now slowly bleeding to death.
‘Ruby, there’s something we’ve been keeping from you all these years,’ Mum said. She paused, then spoke in a rush. ‘It’s that you are not our natural child. We didn’t give birth to you.’
‘Which explains a lot—’
‘Stop it, just for this once, Mick. Leave the girl alone.’ She turned to me. ‘Ruby, you were adopted when you were four months old. You are not our child—d’you hear me?’ She turned. ‘Honestly, Mick, I don’t think she’s taking it in.’
But I was.
I ran into the garden and sang for joy.
The legs of the chair shrieked against the kitchen floor as I pushed it back and I burst through the kitchen door that led out into the garden. Outside, there was a thunderous sky and air the colour of dark butter. Beyond the garden, trees shaded the distance. I plunged into the waist-high grass with my arms outstretched to feel the feather tops of the grasses snaking under my palms. I glimpsed red, the corner of the toy ride-on plastic bus half embedded in the tangled growth, and the arm of a doll, its chubby fingers pointing straight up to a sky of seething grey scribble.
Tall spikes of evening primroses glowing the brightest yellow punched up from the grass as I waded to the middle where I stood and sniffed at the sweet dust of pollen on my hands. Then, arms raised, I started my song to the storm clouds.
‘There’s a brown girl in the ring…’ And it must have been my tenth or maybe twelfth time singing the verse when Mick’s voice crackled a cold path out from the back door.
‘Ruby. Stop that and get back in here, now.’
I dragged my feet all the way back up the path. Just inside the doorway his fist jumped out like a snake and cracked my head.
‘Sit down,’ he said.
I scuttled away and sat on the other side of the table, holding my head.
‘Dear, dear,’ Barbara muttered. ‘Dear God.’ She sat and folded her arms. ‘Ruby, you were only a tiny baby when you came to us,’ she said. ‘It’s hard to think of that now.’
‘So I was smaller than…’
‘Yes,’ she said quickly.
‘But not like her,’ said Mick.
Their daughter. Trudy. She died when she was three. Mick always called her ‘sweet pea’. When he got drunk he cried for her—big drops of tears slid down his face and dripped on his jacket.
‘No. You were a small…’ Barbara said. ‘But strong.’
‘A whiner,’ Mick interrupted. He was fiddling round with the gas stove now, so he had his back to us. He struck a match to light the flame under the kettle and the sulphur smell took to the air. Three quarters on from behind I could still see the quiff sticking out like a horn from his head.
‘Was I born here? Here in the forest, I mean?’ The idea I could have come from anywhere else seemed strange and improbable.
The Forest of Dean. Here we lived in one of a row of small stone cottages with trees stretching over us like children doing ghost impressions with their hands, surrounded by closed coal mines slowly getting zipped back up into the earth.
Barbara screwed up her eyes as if she was looking, trying to see me being born in the distance. She nodded, like she’d caught a glimpse of it. ‘Yes, you were.’
‘What about my name?’ I asked.
‘Flood is ours but Ruby was the name you came with,’ she said. ‘When you were little you thought it was because of…’
Without thinking my hand flew to the birthmark covering the left side of my face.
Mick started picking Smarties off the cake, so Mum snatched it up and carried it to the sink.
‘Well, that’s over,’ she muttered, examining the pits the Smarties had left.
‘But, but…nothing else?’
‘No, not really.’ She let out a breathy sigh and the cake wobbled in her hands.
‘Can I do my wish?’
‘You’ve had it already.’
‘I want to do it again. I’ve thought of something else.’
‘Go on then. Mick, give her the matches.’
Barbara set the cake back on the table and I arranged the yellow candles, their heads already bubbled from burning. I touched a match with its little ball of flame to each one and closed my eyes and wished and wished and wished. The twin stars of my real parents orbited my head, blinking on and off.
‘Come and get me,’ I whispered.
I found the Shadow on the stairs, his boy shape hunched over. He made way for me as I sat beside him and whispered, ‘Mick and Barbara are not my real mum and dad.’ The curled bones of his ear brushed against my lips and I thought I felt him shiver in excitement.
Then I shut myself in the bathroom and ran the bath so hot it gauzed the walls in steam. I imagined my real parents appearing to me through the white clouds. My mother looked like me but with an arctic sparkle of glamour. My father had the same crow’s wing hair as mine and a belted raincoat like the men wore in old films. I reached out to touch but my finger made them explode into a hundred droplets that fell in rain back into the bath, so I opened the tap to make more steam.
‘Come and find me,’ I begged again, hugging my wet knees to my chest.
‘Ruby.’ I wondered how long Mick had been behind the door, lurking. ‘You seem to be using an awful lot of hot water. That sounded like a fiver’s worth that just went in then.’
‘Sorry, sorry,’ I called, holding my cheeks so he couldn’t hear my smile.
I’d always been a scavenger of small things. The glittering dust mote I reached up and tried to grab. The layers of shadow in the corner like piled clothes on a chair. Sliding my hands under rugs for what might be living there. Grubbing in the dirt for treasure.
But that night I became a proper hunter. Of true family. Of the threads that ghosts leave behind. A hunter of lost souls.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Favorite Quotes: I’d always been a scavenger of small things. The glittering dust mote I reached up and tried to grab. The layers of shadow in the corner like piled clothes on a chair. Sliding my hands under rugs for what might be living there. Grubbing in the dirt for treasure. You’re like a Christmas cracker… No, don’t be offended. It’s just like you have a weird toy inside. Not even her mother warned her properly about this. What was this conspiracy of silence among women when the subject came up? You knew by the way their eyes slid away from you there was something they weren’t telling. Now Anna knows what it is, she’s being initiated. There were so many pale kids in the house I remembered it as a nest of worms. My mother came. I tell myself now she might have died because of having me, but that’s not the same as being responsible for her death. It gives me a lightness of feeling knowing that and knowing how she loved me as best she could. After all, she came back for me… She still came for me, even though she was dead. My Review: If like me, you read the author’s previous book, The Girl and the Red Coat, and had firmly set your mind to expect something similar with The Doll Funeral, I would advise you to stop that silly thought train right now, or you will be disappointed and miss out on a gem of a tale. They are significantly different books, although both were extremely well-written and suspensefully eerie mysteries. Once I wrapped my head around my foolish misconception and freed myself of my errant assumptions and expectations, I enjoyed and appreciated The Doll Funeral for the exceptionally well-crafted and brilliant story it was. Written from a dual POV with two different timelines, the story was intriguing, heart-squeezing, and an engrossing page-turner. For the longest time, I could not decide if Ruby was gifted or crazy, or if the people she had befriended were alive or dead, or good or bad. The storyline occasionally seemed to toss in a few erratic threads, although those odd little nuggets ingeniously dovetailed back together to weave a surprisingly rich tapestry at the conclusion. Kate Hamer is a cunning and wily wordsmith.