Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Year Of The Rat

Clare Furniss

Simon & Schuster


April 2014



What a wonderful, warm-hearted tearjerker of a novel this is! Flowing effortlessly from scene to scene, largely dialogue-driven, it is told, as are so many young adult novels these days, in the first person continuous present, in the voice of Pearl, self-obsessed and self-pitying, following the sudden death of her mother in the late stages of pregnancy.

For all Pearl’s understandable emphasis on her own feelings and view of her situation, the other characters in the book have a strong presence as well. This is the case both for main characters such as Pearl’s father (who is not her birth father, a fact which of course has resonance throughout the novel) and her Scottish grandmother, and also for more minor characters such as members of staff at Pearl’s school, her best friend who feels shut out by Pearl’s grief and, towards the end of the novel, a lively, precocious seven-year-old, who provides levity at just that point when the book might otherwise have become maudlin.

The ‘Rat’ of the title is Pearl’s baby sister, successfully delivered prematurely while the mother was dying. Pearl resents the fact that the baby has survived while her mother has not, and she blames her father for wanting her mother to become pregnant.

At the first posthumous appearance of the mother in one of what turns out to be a sequence of mother-daughter conversations, I confess to having thought this book might not be for me. Is this going to be a little too Truly, Madly, Deeply I wondered? As it turns out, Furniss is such a skilled writer (hard to believe this is a debut novel) and the mother’s character sufficiently multi-layered that once the first appearance had happened I willingly suspended disbelief on each subsequent encounter.

To be honest I loved every moment of it, including the muted flirtation between Pearl and the young man who sometimes visits an elderly neighbour. The back of the proof copy I was reading suggested the book would suit fans of Meg Rosoff and John Green. That’s as may be, but I would want to add that fans of Sharon Creech, Joan Bauer and Hilary McKay will love it too. The book’s mood reminded me at times of a Richard Curtis film. I heartily recommend it.