HERRING GIRL by Debbie Taylor

My thanks to Martin LeFevre who is writing this blog for a few months in my absence. His latest report is below.
Ann Coburn

‘Set in a Tyneside fishing village, Herring Girl moves effortlessly between 1898 and 2007 as twelve-year-old Ben finds himself the unlikely conduit for Annie, a herring girl who lived – and died – a century earlier. As Ben tries to unravel the puzzle of Annie’s death, he is drawn irresistibly into her long-vanished world. Bringing the startling story of Annie’s life and curious death vividly to life, this brilliantly realised historical mystery introduces a cast of unforgettable characters, and reveals how the secrets of our past are never too far away.’

A wonderful book. It was nice to read about the lives of characters I could like, with the exception of the murderous Tom and indescribably awful Ian. Even Big Paul, who was forced to face up to his worst homophobic dreads in the most graphic way imaginable, elicited some sympathy as a man so far from his upbringing, he couldn’t cope and then had to face the loss of his son as a consequence of his prejudices. As to the existence or not of souls and re-incarnation, I found the quality of the writing so good it didn’t matter. I could accept the gripping story on the basis of its own premise in the same way that a certainty that teleportation, ray guns and faster than light travel are figments of the writers imagination does not spoil my enjoyment of a good science fiction work. The two explorations, of the past from the present and a mystery from the 19thcentury running in tandem was a masterpiece of planning and as good as any detective fiction. I have no knowledge of historical fishing methods and dialect but it felt consistent and could well be authentic. Everything about my slight knowledge of Shields was OK and nothing jarred as being out of place. The only bum note was Dr Mary’s supine acceptance of Ian’s intrusion and getting in touch with her past patients which must have involved burglary and the grossest breach of client confidentiality imaginable. The whole involvement of a film crew in any part of her work is highly suspect, especially with a minor. But the wholesale looting of her other client records and her own personal psychiatric history was just beyond the pale.I notice she has 2 other books listed on the back cover and I have ordered them on the strength of this book. I cannot give higher praise.

However, some book group members were less enthusiastic and a few did not finish the book. They felt that the modern era story was trying to tick all the politically correct minority boxes, that the psychiatrist would have been struck off, and that the historical research sections where characters read off the census went on for too long and in too much detail. Some also thought that the child with the confused gender was far to adult for his years. The historical story on the Shields Fisheries was much better received; for some this was the best part of the book.

Book recommendations from members:
Where’d you go Bernadette? By Maria Semple
Spool of Blue Thread by Ann Tyler
You have been shamed by Jon Ronson
Consolations by David Whyte
Forty Days of Rain byKim Stanley Robinson
Plus of course, in my case Debbie Taylor’s other novel, The Fourth Queen and the Hungry Ghosts.

Martin LeFevre


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About the book group

The Berwick Book Group meets on the first Tuesday of every month at the First Class Passenger Lounge on the platform of Berwick Train Station at 6.30pm.

If you would like more information about what the group is reading, please visit www.newwritingnorth.com/submit/join-berwick-book-group.

May 2015
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