Catherine is a troubled young woman. Unhappily promiscuous, traumatised after losing her home to a flood, lonely and stuck in a dead-end job, she is compelled to volunteer on a late-night advice line where she bears witness to other people's anguish. She is also an extreme insomniac and troubled by her own memories - or lack of them. Something happened in her ninth year, but what? The novel is a slow reveal of past events and the theme of flooding provides a profound parallel for her experience. Repeatedly, if unwillingly, Catherine returns to her ruined home to witness its tortured process of repair.
"I closed my eyes. Remembered. Snow landed on my cheeks now as rain had that day. That day. we all called it That Day. That Day I'd opened the gate, causing a small wave. That Day I'd paused when brown, thigh high water wet my underwear. That Day waves had lapped at the windowsill, splashed tears against glass. It spilled into airbricks, entered though every hole and crack, uninvited, intrusive. It ruined all that I'd built, all that I had." *
Maria in the Moon is a rare treat - a novel that is stylistically sophisticated as well as intriguing enough to keep the pages turning. The characterisation is especially strong, with Catherine's caustic wit lightening the load. She's a wonderfully real and loveable character, full of contradictions - sad but funny, bleak but warm-hearted, smart but childlike. Her big reveal creeps into view with a sense of inevitability rather than surprise (for the character and the reader alike), but Louise Beech holds back a final twist for a satisfying denouement. Maria in the Moon is an impressive - and thoroughly enjoyable - modern suspense novel.
* Going back to look for this quote for the review, I'm again struck by the cleverness of this novel. I can't explain why without massive SPOILERS but this paragraph takes on deeper meaning at second reading. The fabulous sub-text reminds me of the Victorian literature I studied at uni - very clever indeed.