Published by Picador
Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington
Alice Bliss is fifteen. She idolises her father and when he chooses to go to war in Iraq, Alice and the whole family are distraught. After trying to accept he has gone for a while they receive news he is missing in action, and have to find new reserves of strength to face what comes next.
My feelings about this book are very mixed. It is a slow moving, sincere story of how a family has to cope with the father Matt leaving his home to fight the war inIraq. There are very tender moments and memories of the relationships in the family, and well developed characters, particularly the younger sister Ellie. However there is not much originality in the plot and each week brings more sorrow. The mother Angie goes from anger at her husband for choosing to go to war over his family, to sad depression, to the extent that she neglects her children. She answers almost every enquiry of Alice’s with ‘not now please.’ She has no time to shop or cook and Alice takes on most of the family responsibility, then is given no understanding when she starts failing at school. There are some lighter people in the story like the lovable Uncle Eddie and the competent grandmother who owns a coffee shop, otherwise it would just be too miserable. There are some descriptions which are really beautiful, like the smells of the work room and the earth in the garden, they are evocative and very realistic, but there are other descriptions like (she can hear) ‘poplar leaves stirring like soft coins in the breeze’. I have no clue what that means.
The ending is fairly predictable with a dignified funeral. When Alice tries to tell her mother she can’t really cope with it, she is told ‘this isn’t about you Alice’. A more cruel response, I cannot imagine. There is a heart-breaking ending and I did shed a few tears, although I was mostly annoyed by the mother for her unnecessary insensitivity. This is a lightweight read but enjoyable in seeing the progress of Alice’s teenage development at the most difficult time in her life.
A good holiday read if you don’t mind shedding a few tears on the beach.