Reviewed by Laura Marriott
Tremarnock is a picture perfect Cornish fishing village, largely untouched by gentrification, poverty or seasonal tourism. It is here that we find our protagonists, for whom the beautiful, peaceful Tremarnock is a sanctuary. Its mutli – coloured houses cluster around the harbour where fishermen still make their living catching fresh fish each day. The village has a local pub and award winning restaurant that the villagers gather around for all social occasions. It is presented as the perfect idyll.
Our protagonist and guide to Tremarnock is Liz. Still only in her thirties, she has taken her daughter Rosie to live by the sea; far away from her useless cheating father. Here she does little except work and care for her only child. She has successfully built up a good network of friends and helpers although she is always keen to shoulder the burden of motherhood alone. Their involved, realistic mother – daughter relationship is the highlight of the novel and should be instantly recognisable to the reader. Often this relationship will make you want to go and hold your relatives, your mother, close.
At the heart of all families and villages there are secrets. These create plot twists and show certain characters in a new light. Sometimes people are not as clear as we think they are and the reader follows Liz as she navigates her way through the mysteries of this close knit community. The novel does not always remain completely light hearted and often surprises the reader with its depth and direction. One of the ways in which Liz seems to stand out is the way in which she is an open book for all to read.
This bucolic village depiction is somewhat idealised and certainly different from the experiences of myself and my contemporaries of living in a small Cornish community. It appears to have been written from the point of view of a visitor cherry picking the image and not the reality of rural living. This is perhaps best shown in the way Liz is strangely instantly accepted and absorbed into the local community. Her new friends and neighbours quickly become her family.
This sense of instant inclusion is however capitalised upon when Liz becomes friends with a Plymouth-based family who run a small, failing newsagents where she buys her cigarettes and lottery ticket each week. The lottery ticket, and all it symbolises of hope and potential opportunity and security acts as a recurrent symbol throughout the novel. Once again Liz and Rosie quickly become part of the family, but this soon leads into a web of intrigue that is not fully resolved until the novel’s closing pages. One thing about Tremarnock is that it has surprises scattered throughout. This begins with the intriguing prologue that hooks in the reader immediately; drawing them in as they wait to find out how the story will unravel.
Despite everything both Liz and Rosie have been through in their lives they always remain positive and never back down from the challenges facing them. In this way they are courageous, and the simple, pure, complete love Liz feels for Rosie echoes in every of her actions; from holding down multiple jobs to caring for her when sick to fundraising for a potential life-improving medical procedure. The challenges and joys of raising a child with cerebral palsy are excellently portrayed through the relationship between the pair and the challenges they face are explored in depth. It is important to note though that the ups and downs of their lives are expertly told through character and plot details, and at no point in time does the reader feel lectured to.
The main flaw in the novel is in the portrayal of Liz as being near perfect. The innocence and naiveté can be a little difficult, particularly when it comes to the way in which she refuses to stand up for herself or see the reality of her relationships with certain family members and friends. One element of the ending, although comforting, verges on the edge of being sickly sweet, as Liz forgives those who have wronged her but without any real assessment of the impact their actions have had on her and Rosie’s lives. At times it would be nice if Liz stood up for herself in the way she stands up for Rosie a little more. However this mild frustration one feels arguably adds to the realism of being presented with a fully fleshed out character.
Interestingly the press release states that Tremarnock is the first in the series. This is intriguing and the reader will be keen to find out whether the rest of the series continues to focus on Liz, Rosie and their new life or whether it will delve into the intrigues offered by other village members. A colourful cast of supporting characters feature throughout and their own narratives and characteristics are touched upon; leaving the potential for many different routes to be taken with the rest of the series.
Burstall is a freelance journalist, which shows in the wealth of detail and local flavour that peppers the novel. Her love for the county pulses through the pages almost as another beloved character. This relaxing summer read is like being wrapped in a warm blanket as you allow yourself to be transported through the lives, loves and secrets of this ideal Cornish fishing village.
Laura Marriott is a historian, theatre critic, writer and poet. Find her at LauraMarriottWriting
Emma Burstall, Tremarnock (Head of Zeus, 2016). 978-1781857892. 407pp., paperback.
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