Ever This Day by Helen Moorhouse
My own copy via Kindle TBR mountain
Little Frances slams the doors, and runs around the upstairs floors.
She’ll steal your pen or touch your hair, when you’re sure there’s no one there.
The nuns are meant to keep her safe, but she gets out of her own grave.
So pull your covers over your head, Little Frances isn’t dead …
On a bright spring day in London, Ria Driver sees a face she never thought she’d see again. Coincidence? Or her past coming back to haunt her? Suddenly, Ria is plunged back almost thirty years, to the time she spent as Supervisor at the Convent of Maria Goretti, a rural Irish boarding school. And although she has tried her best to forget, the memories come flooding back. Cold, darkness, isolation, loss … fear. Fear of the sadistic Mother Benedicta and her cruel punishments. And fear of the noises … the humming, the footsteps, the knocking …What was the cause of the sounds from the attic? And who was the child who should not have been there?
As events unfold, Ria realises that she can leave the past behind no longer, that her story needs an ending. And to find it, she must go back to where she swore she’d never go again.
This novel is a cross-over of several genre’s. It has elements of historical fiction with the setting of 1942/1980s Ireland. It has a huge mystery surrounding the convent and discovered remains. It also has a real horror-creepy feel to it. I tried reading it alone at night by the light of my kindle and was seriously freaking out! The writing is stunning, despite the tough themes the author has challenged.
Envy, fear and rage this novel has it all!
What are the fabulous people at Poolbeg Books feeding their authors? This is the second novel I have reviewed this year under this publisher and both have been clear 5* Genius and added to my favourites of the year so far!
The novel opens in Ballykeeran August 1942, with a child seeking her sister Frances who is hiding. The child returns home alone. What seems quite simple, will soon become sinister as the book develops its various threads.
London 2015, Ria is a divorced, single teacher in her 50s. She has a daughter Emma now grown and flown the nest and a set of lovely friends. After a chance encounter on a London street and a related current news story, leaves Ria rattled. She begins to confide in best friend Jess and so her story begins. . .
‘That day that started the end of the story’
In 1987 Dublin, a young Ria dreams of a new life in Boston, America. But she is not within the means to afford the ticket. Jobs are hard to come by in 1980s Ireland when she spots an ad for a live-in teacher/guardian at a convent. Sitting in her bed-sit in Rathmines orphaned and penniless. The job at St Theresa’s all girls secondary school beckons. Ria is a newly qualified teacher and desperate for both money and a chance to prove herself. She considers it ‘step one of the plan’.
When she arrives at the convent, Ria is struck by the peaceful countryside and old building. She is greeted by Sister Ruth and taken to meet the mother superior Mother Benedicta. Ria is shown to her cell-like room, with a crucifix hanging above the bed and she instantly begins to regret her decision. With lights, out at 10pm and nowhere else to go. Ria will have to swallow her pride and make it work at the convent.
During her meeting with Mother Benedicta she is informed of her duties and hours. Her day will begin at 7:30am and end at 10:30pm. It is a long day packed full of order, discipline, physical activity and most of all silence. . .
‘When the mouth is closed, the mind and the heart are open to Jesus’ –
She is given a duties pamphlet and reminded that idleness is unacceptable in both herself and the girls she will chaperone.
‘We strive for purity’ – Mother Benedicta
The novel also has the point of view of Lydia. One of the young boarding students at the convent. She describes the prison-like conditions herself. Electronic devices such as a walk-man are banned, and life is dull. Lydia only has 9 months left, until she reaches the end of her last year. Through Lydia we learn that the convent used to house younger girls in what they call the ‘baby dorm’ which is now sealed off. Strange noises are often heard to come from the room.
It is through this haunting, that a friendship will form between Lydia and Ria.
In the convent, day students and boarders are purposely separated. There are 64 boarders when Ria arrives. Teachers and nuns do not mix and with 7/8 teaching nuns, it becomes a lonely existence for Ria. When her romance with boyfriend Leonard dissolves into nothing, Ria is left more alone and deserted than ever before. When the autumn approaches, strange things begin to happen, and Ria becomes terrified of the convent in which she lives.
‘There was so much bad stuff to come – I just didn’t know it’ – Ria
With the flashbacks to 1942, we learn about the missing young girls Frances. How her mother and father are heartbroken, and the mother turns on the remaining daughter. Branded the ‘devil’s child’ the remaining sister suffers severe emotional and mental abuse and anguish.
We learn Lydia’s backstory and how she came to be living at the convent. Her familial history is similar to Ria’s and you can see how the two could form a strong bond.
Ria meets Mr Flynn (Matthew) who is hired every year to create a musical performance. The performance offers a much-needed distraction to Ria and Lydia.
The introduction of Matthew also brings Ria a friend.
When Lydia is caught with a walk-man we see the voracious pent-up rage inside of Mother Benedicta. She is a formidable woman and has every on the edge,
petrified of her temper.
“The devil is a hard worker” – Mother Agnes
Ria fears being sacked from her position and financial ruin. Which will in-turn see her turn a blind eye to emotionally abusive practices. Until one day, something so bad happens Ria vows to leave and never return. . .
‘This place is poison – I have to get away from here’ – Ria
I can’t fully express how much I enjoyed this novel for fear of leaving spoilers. But it has so many various themes and really keeps you on your toes. You become absorbed by Ria’s story and hang onto every scene that she is in.
The various themes make this novel perfect for book groups. The danger of obedience to positions of power. The women oppressed by long-held traditional values. The extremist Catholic views that are blind to the pain and suffering they cause. Lydia’s coming of age as an orphan in unforgiving times. Are all fabulous talking points. I only wish the novel came with an added extra of reading group topics.
Beautiful writing and Irish historical fiction at its finest.
Currently on the TBR pile:
Sing Me To Sleep by Helen Moorhouse
Also available via Kindle Unlimited
Some love is neverending. First love. A mother’s love for her child. This, Jenny Mycroft learns when she finds herself unable to leave her husband, Ed and her daughter Bee, despite the fact she has died in a tragic car accident.
But no matter how strong, how enduring, her love, Jenny learns that life goes on and that for the living there is still time for new love, for fresh heartbreak.
Through a series of snapshots spanning over 30 years, Sing Me To Sleep looks at the lives of three women who love, and are loved, by one man. Through heartbreak, joy and hope to the eventual dramatic events that bring all three women together.
Sing Me To Sleep is the story of how we are driven by love, even after death. A tale of what might have been, what should have been, and what was.