Monday, 5 August 2013

The Messenger by L.M Shakespeare

Can any pigeon, however fast, take a message to a dead man? The story is set in a mining village in the 1940s, when all the men kept racing pigeons. Dan Pugh, a miner whose wife died in childbirth, loves the little daughter who survived. Bethan is brain damaged and cannot do many things, but adores her father and the racing pigeons. When she is fifteen Dan gives Bethan her own very special bird named Birthday, which turns out to be an extraordinary racing champion. The villagers supply a rich supporting cast in this story - from Dan's spinster sister who keeps house, and whose heart is being broken by a secret love affair with a local shepherd, to a kindly doctor, ice-cream makers, a classical school master, Italian immigrants, a wayward teenage girl, and more. When war comes and Dan is reported missing in action, they all try, without success, to explain to Bethan what has happened. But for her, with her unique slant on human life, death simply has no meaning. In the end Bethan's solution is to send Birthday to her father with a letter. But can any pigeon, however fast, take a message to a dead man?

This story starts off in a sad place. Dan has just lost his wife giving birth to Bethan due to an extremely traumatic birth that leaves Bethan brain damaged. Bethan can't speak apart from the odd word and she only really manages to respond to her Father, who she follows around everywhere.

The story then jumps a few years to when Bethan is fifteen. Her Father decides to give her a pigeon for her birthday, who Bethan names Birthday. Bethan loves Birthday and it's through an incident with a cat that Bethan also makes her first childhood friend Emrys, who shot-puts cats that get anywhere near Birthday. Although Bethan doesn't speak to Emrys, he doesn't mind. He is extremely chatty himself so he fills up the silences and Dan finds him a pleasant change to a child who doesn't talk.  It is a great surprise when Birthday turns out to be a great racing pigeon and you learn a lot about them.

It is sadly not much later after giving Bethan Birthday that Dan is called up to go to war, leaving Bethan to the care of her Aunt. He tells Bethan that he is going on holiday. So when he goes missing in action, no one can get through to Bethan what has happened, so Bethan decides to send Birthday with a message to him, but will Birthday find him? And will it be too late?

I did feel really sorry for Bethan, but because of her condition she seemed happy enough, not really knowing any better. I was a little annoyed at Betty (Dan's spinster sister) when she shouted at her when Bethan didn't respond. Bethan can't help the way she is. Betty also became more dislikable when Dan went to war and she had to take care of Bethan. But at the same time I could understand her frustrations as Bethan must have been difficult to look after. It was also really sad when the others were trying to tell her what had happened to her Father and that no one would tell her the location of Heaven because obviously no one could, but Bethan didn't know that.

There were quite a lot of characters in this book, so sometimes I found it a little hard to keep up, but I did like all of them, apart from maybe Betty. I particularly liked Emrys.  I thought Emrys was really sweet, especially in one scene where he held Bethan's hand when she was upset.

I thought the relationship between Bethan and her Dad was so lovely. You could really see that he loved Bethan so much and he tries to engage with her as much as he can. He is the only one Bethan really responds to.

I was quite surprised at the ending, but I thought it was a lovely ending and you find out who the narrator is which I was also surprised at and wasn't quite sure what to make of it.

Overall I did enjoy this story. Sometimes I think the novel maybe could have gone a little bit faster but that's just me. It was however beautifully written and very moving.

The Messenger is out now.


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