‘My name is Meredith Maggs and I haven't left my home for 1,214 days.’ So begins this beautiful story about a young woman and her life of isolation.
About to turn 40, with a childhood best friend called Sadie and a cat called Fred, when we’re first drawn into Meredith’s world, we know little of why she’s ended up in self-imposed isolation on her leafy Glasgow street. But as this clever story begins to unfold, we dart back and forth to her dysfunctional childhood years, where we meet her bossy but loving big sister ‘Fee’, who tried hard to protect her from their mother’s sharp tongue and unkind ways. Before returning to the present day and then heading to 2015, and the day Meredith decides to stay home for good.
On the surface Meredith’s current life seems calm. She’s a freelance writer with a perfectly organised home. She spends her days baking cakes, rustling up homemade Italian dishes like spaghetti puttanesca, and doing jigsaws. But we’re reminded of the narrowness of her life with the arrival of Tom McDermott, a kind volunteer from the befriending charity, Holding Hands, who has been tasked to find out why she can’t leave her house. Meredith welcomes Tom into her life, along with Celeste, who she meets in a forum for other lonely people.
As we find out more about Meredith’s past, and why she no longer speaks to her family, it begins to make sense why she feels safer within her own four walls, protected from the outside world and all the harm and heartache it contains.
‘I’d been thinking about themes to explore in the novel, and one of them was the distinction between loneliness and being alone,’ Claire tells Grazia. ‘Lots of people live alone — I did for much of my twenties — but they leave their homes to go to work, they socialise, they do what they need to do to avoid feeling lonely. I was wondering how someone would cope if they were completely isolated from the rest of the world — in a physical sense, at least — when the character of Meredith came to me. What had happened to her to put her in this situation? And what did her future hold?’
The book glides along at a calming pace, but it’s not afraid to shift its focus to mental health and the painful complexities of family dysfunction.
‘I knew there had to be trauma in Meredith’s past, which is gradually revealed,’ says Claire. ‘And while we might not have experienced the same as Meredith, how many of us can say we haven’t experienced dysfunctional family relationships or mental health issues?
‘These subjects might be difficult to talk about, but I think it’s having these tricky conversations and learning about other people’s mental health struggles (real or fictional) that helps us reach a place of acceptance and compassion.’
Overall, it’s a story filled with love and hope, and well-crafted characters.
Each one we meet – from her flawed mother, to Jacob, the sweet 10-year-old who lives over the road – is perfectly written and they slot together like one of the jigsaws Meredith is so fond of. In fact, at one point she refers to herself as ‘an ill-fitting jigsaw piece that’s been forced into the wrong space’ in life. But by the end of this book, you get the sense she has slowly gathered up all the pieces of her broken life and put it back together again.
GRAZIA’S BOOK CLUB GIVES ITS VERDICT
‘This is such a poignant and well-written novel. Meredith’s past informs her present and the author deftly moves between the two, laying out a cohesive narrative, which is sad, heart-warming, written with humour and, ultimately, a delight.’ Bettina
‘What a treat this book was! A charming and gorgeous story of relatable people and how they cope with horrible things that happen to them. There are no twists, nothing overly dramatic, just an abundance of friendship and warmth.’ Jesse
‘A lovely, gentle book that’s full of hope and great characters. It reminded me of Eleanor Oliphant, in the best possible way.’ Kate