Summer 1966: When her father comes home with lipstick on his collar, ten-year-old Claire’s life is turned upside down. Her furious mother leaves the family and heads to London, and Claire and her brothers are packed off to Ireland, to their reclusive grandmother at her tiny cottage on the beautifully bleak coast of Connemara.
#EmmetAndMe @SGethinWriter @honno @annecater @RandomTTours
A misfit among her new classmates, Claire finds it hard to make friends until she happens across a boy her own age from the school next door. He lives at the local orphanage, a notoriously harsh place. Amidst half-truths, lies and haunting family secrets, Claire forms a forbidden friendship with Emmet ‒ a bond that will change both their lives forever.
One of my favourite books of the year so far, I love Claire, our ten-year-old narrator. She is sharp and funny but often very naive.
It is 1966 and Claire’s mother has discovered lipstick on her husband Conor’s collar – the very same lipstick she gave her best friend. She starts yelling and smashing plates and eventually walks out, leaving him to cope with Claire, older brother Will and baby brother Louis. The first night they stay with Uncle Jack, but it is then decided that Jack will take them from their home in Wales to live temporarily with his and Conor’s mum in Connemara, while mother sorts herself out.
Living with Granny is a shock to the system. There’s little electricity – just one socket in the whole house – no indoor bath or toilet, and to use the outdoor privy you need a torch and a broom to sweep away the spiders. That’s me out then. Bath time is a tub in the kitchen.
Granny’s only ‘friend’ is Michael the farmer next door, who pops over regularly since his wife died. Granny is widowed too but don’t expect a blossoming romance!
They spend the summer at Granny’s tiny cottage, but still mother doesn’t ask for them to come home – they are told she is not well and their dad can’t cope as he has to go to work. Summer is over and Claire and Will must go to school. Will is told to call himself by his first name Patrick (Will is a ‘Proddy’ name he is told) and Claire should spell her name Clare as it’s more Irish.
It’s at Claire’s school that we learn about the House girls who sit together at the back of the class, don’t wear the same uniform, smell funny and have terrible teeth. It is also when she sees Emmet for the first time, and starts meeting him every day in her lunch breaks, hiding round the back of the toilet block. He tells her about his horse Buddy, who loves crusts (especially from the fish paste sandwiches Claire brings for lunch) and apple cores. They soon become firm friends, but she doesn’t understand how hard life is for the orphaned girls who live with the nuns, and for the boys who live with the Brothers at the Industrial school.
This is such a moving story. There is so much sadness, tragedy, hardship and cruelty – the way the Brothers treat the boys in their ‘care’ is shameful. Someone mentioned in their review that they had to take a breather three-quarters of the way through as they found it so upsetting. I get that but I just couldn’t stop reading until the very last page. A wonderful book by a wonderful new voice in literature.
Many thanks to @annecater for inviting me to be part of #RandomThingsTours.
About the Author
Sara Gethin grew up in Llanelli. She has a degree in Religion and Ethics in Western Thought and worked as a primary school teacher in Carmarthenshire and Berkshire. Writing as Wendy White, she has had four children’s books published, and the first of these won the Tir nan-Og Award in 2014. Her debut novel, Not Thomas, was shortlisted for the Guardian’s Not the Booker prize and The Waverton Good Read Award. While West Wales is still home, Sara spends much of her time in Ireland. Emmet and Me is her second novel for adults.