Tartelin has been employed by Marianne Stourbridge to hunt for butterflies, but she quickly uncovers something far more intriguing. The island and Marianne share a remarkable past, and what happened all those years ago has left its scars.

The island has a strange effect on Tartelin, too, finally allowing her to confront her own, painful, memories. As she does, Marianne’s story begins to unravel around her, revealing an extraordinary tale of two girls, an obsession with pearls, and a truth beyond imagination.

Atmospheric and deeply emotional, The Unravelling is a captivating novel about the secrets we can only discover when we dare to look beneath the surface. 

My Review

‘The sea is made up of unspeakable sadness.’ This is a sentence you will read many times in this extraordinary book.

Tartelin, a young woman who has recently lost her mother, travels to the tiny, remote island of Dohhalund in the middle of the North Sea, to work for Miss Stourbridge. Her job will be to catch butterflies and kill them, so they can be pinned and studied. It’s a strange request and one that Tartelin doesn’t realise will have such a profound effect on her.

‘It’s been 63 years since I left Dohhalund for the mainland,’ Miss Stourbridge tells her, ‘and still this island is changing.’

Initially the relationship between the two women is difficult and strained. There is no common ground between the young girl and this seemingly cantankerous and difficult woman who we know to be very old, frail and wheelchair-bound – I worked it out that she is around 103 years old. Tartelin wants to know the island’s secrets, but Miss Stourbridge doesn’t want to tell her.

But ultimately, this is a story of friendship, love, emotion and ‘unravelling’ – a story that will see new relationships beginning and others rekindled, and the secrets of the past finally revealed, until by the end I was in tears for the ‘unspeakable sadness’.

This is easily my favourite book of the final quarter of 2021 and its beauty and sincerity will stay with me for a long time to come.

Many thanks to NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

About the Author

After a whirlwind of a year which saw Polly receive writing scholarships from both Curtis Brown Creative and The University of East Anglia’s MA in Creative Writing, she went on to be runner up in the Bridport Prize’s Peggy Chapman Andrews Award for a First Novel. Read Polly’s piece for the Bridport Prize’s blog here.

Polly’s novel was snapped up by HarperCollins HQ in the UK and Commonwealth in a 48 hour pre-empt, and a few days later by HarperCollins Park Row Books in North America.

Polly grew up on the Suffolk coast, and now lives in the heart of Norfolk with her husband and son, and her very loud and much loved rescue Oriental cat, Dali.

The Illustrated Child is her first novel. Her second novel, The Unravelling, is out on 6th January ‘22.

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