Sunday, December 29, 2019

Book Review: 'Echoes of Family' by Barbara Claypole White

British born North Carolina author Barbara Claypole White has published dour very successful books. Though trained with a history degree and having worked in the fashion industry in England, her dreams of becoming a writer had to wait until she moved to North Carolina and became a stay at home mom with her son who has obsessive-compulsive disorder – her topic for her novels was set: writing hopeful family dramas with a healthy dose of mental illness. Her passion: creating characters who chip away at the stereotypes of invisible disabilities.

Given that bit of biographical information, Barbara offers some comments about her inspiration for this new novel ECHOES OF FAMILY – ‘My first three novels grew out of dark what-if moments related to my life, but this novel came to me through a scene. One summer my family and I were visiting my childhood village in England when the opening of a story— set in the church— began playing in my mind. I saw the church ladies twittering over wedding flowers up by the altar while an elegant American woman watched from the back pew, eyes hidden by sunglasses. I felt their rising concern for the stranger and witnessed one of them dash off to fetch the vicar, who was attacking stinging nettles with a weed whacker. When he crouched down to say, “What’s brought you back after all this time, Marianne?” she replied, “I’ve come home to die.” That was all I knew. I put the scene aside, but I was curious about this woman who talked of death although she wasn’t dying. Understanding Marianne’s thought process, however, was a challenge, and the only thing that made sense was her homing instinct. Like Marianne, I have a strong connection to my childhood village, and I’ve never reclaimed the part of my heart that lives there. I love walking into the butcher’s and hearing the owner say, “Hello, Barbara, how are you?” as if I’ve been buying his chipolatas every week. On some level this novel is about the pull of my childhood village and the sense of community that I still miss. I was also drawn to the idea of a character who had done everything right to manage her mental illness and still everything had gone wrong. My experience from living in the trenches with mental illness is that the challenges never end. The triggers are out there, waiting. And there are always new levels of acceptance to attain. The last piece of the story puzzle came from my fascination with music as therapy. When my son was younger, I worked hard to find something that would bring peace to his battles with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). We tried meditation, yoga, all the usual suspects, but once he got his first electric guitar, he discovered that creating music was a natural tonic for his anxiety. By the time he’d become an intern at Nightsound Studios in Carrboro, I’d already abandoned a story about a bipolar teen and her dad, a musician who ran a small local recording studio. One evening my son came home talking about his work, and the next morning I woke up with Jade front and center in my mind. Jade was the missing piece of Marianne’s story.’

Barbara has an uncanny way of introducing characters who are not only new to us as readers but whose life situations are mostly unfamiliar, Given these characters she immediately pulls us into her story with a magnetic sense of caring about the plights of each in her well-scribed plot. With eloquent prose she offers us a tale that is completely involving, that sort of novel for which we all search.

Briefly the synopsis is as follows – ‘Sometimes the only way through darkness is to return to where it began. Marianne Stokes fled England at seventeen, spiraling into the manic depression that would become her shadow. She left behind secrets, memories, and tragedy: one teen dead, and her first love, Gabriel, badly injured. Three decades later she’s finally found peace in the North Carolina recording studio she runs with her husband, Darius, and her almost-daughter, Jade…until another fatality propels her back across the ocean to confront the long-buried past. In her picturesque childhood village, the first person she meets is the last person she wants to see again: Gabriel. Now the village vicar, he takes her in without question, and ripples of what if reverberate through both their hearts. As Marianne’s mind unravels, Jade and Darius track her down. Tempers clash when everyone tries to help, but only by finding the courage to face her illness can Marianne heal herself and her offbeat family.’
Writing of this quality is rare. Barbara invites us to join her growing cadre of committed readers. Highly recommended n every level. Grady Harp, October 16
This book is free on Kindle Unlimited.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.