I first read this book last year, but then the release date changed. When I was asked onto the blog tour, I was excited to read it again. I remember being so intrigued by the premise – I always get strangely giddy when an author does something unexpected or genre bending! On the second read I still had me the same sense of delight and wonder as Faye gets into her space hopper box and careers back into the 1970s.
This is a story about taking a leap of faith
And believing the unbelievable
They say those we love never truly leave us, and I’ve found that to be true. But not in the way you might expect. In fact, none of this is what you’d expect.
I’ve been visiting my mother who died when I was eight.
And I’m talking about flesh and blood, tea-and-biscuits-on-the-table visiting here.
Right now, you probably think I’m going mad.
Let me explain…
Although Faye is happy with her life, the loss of her mother as a child weighs on her mind even more now that she is a mother herself. So she is amazed when, in an extraordinary turn of events, she finds herself back in her childhood home in the 1970s. Faced with the chance to finally seek answers to her questions – but away from her own family – how much is she willing to give up for another moment with her mother?
This truly is a unique and original debut novel that mixes a heartfelt story about mothers and daughters, time travel, and the 1970s. I’m a child of the 1970s and though I never owned a space-hopper they were an instantly recognisable symbol of my childhood. The author takes these elements and brings us moments of intense delight – I was smiling to myself as Faye climbs into the ratty and tattered space-hopper box in the attic – but also a poignant and heart rending sense of loss. Faye has a photo of herself in the box, it was taken when she was six and it must have been taken by her mother, Jeanie. Although her Mum isn’t in this photo, everything about it tells her how much she was loved and how much was taken away from her. It’s Christmas and Faye remembers the decorations, the presents and can see the sense of wonder in her little face. She can also see the love, the trust and the sense that her Mum is her absolute world. Her presence in the photograph is so strong, even though we can’t see her. This photo is like a talisman for Faye, and the reader feels the strong emotional pull too.
Yet she doesn’t know her mum. There’s a moment, when adult Faye has hidden herself in the garden shed, and watches her mum open the back door and look down the garden.
‘hands on hips looking straight down the short, narrow garden, straight at me in fact, and took in a long deep breath of cold air. She closed her eyes and smiled. She looked so content and I realised I knew nothing about this woman.’
It questions whether we can ever truly know our mother, even though the emotional bond is so incredibly strong. Faye wonders if, through time travel, she can get to know her mother on an adult-adult level, especially if her mother doesn’t know who she is. Although in a philosophical chat with her friends, they point out that Faye would always know she was Jeanie’s daughter and can only relate to her in that role. The question is, can she tell them what has happened to her? There are pros and cons to having this portal to her past. When she’s with her mother, she worries whether she’ll be able to get back to her husband Eddie and her own daughters Esther and Evie. She wants to be there for her daughters, so they don’t have the very same experience of loss that she had. Eddie is training to be a vicar, so he has a belief in God and the afterlife. Faye has no belief, and worries about where she’ll fit as a vicar’s wife without faith. Now can she ask Eddie to belief she’s found a portal back to her childhood in a ratty, space-hopper box that’s hiding in the attic? Every character is so loving and supportive of Faye, but I have to mention her friend Louis who happens to be blind. I liked the sense in which he takes a leap every single day into a world he can’t see and doesn’t always understand in the same way we do. He makes the point that his inner world is very different from the sighted person’s world, although sighted people always think he sees like they do. If you’ve never seen a cat, you can only go on the way it feels. There’s a brilliant example where he’s asked to draw a bus and he draws one vertical line, followed by three smaller horizontal lines.
His experience of the bus is the vertical handle he holds to get on and three horizontal steps he climbs. Maybe Louis would understand the sense of different worlds?
When working in my day job, I sometimes counsel people who are bereaved. We talk about grief in many different ways, but one of the most popular metaphors is the sea. It tends to come in and out in waves. On anniversaries it sweeps in and then recedes again. There are times when it stays far out of sight and others when it comes in so fast and strong it’s like a grief tsunami! If Faye returns, having got to know her Mum as Jeanie, will she grieve for her all over again? If she’s stuck back there, she will grieve for her family and friends in the present. I was deeply touched by a section where she talks about her childhood grief and needing to ask questions about her mother.
‘ I searched my memory like it was a messy drawer, trying to find an image, some mental recording of a conversation, something to explain exactly why I’d felt so alone in dealing with losing my mum, when Em and Henry had been so supportive, so caring, in every other way. I could see Henry’s face in a memory so coated with dust I could barely picture it. It was his face with a worried look, glancing over at Em as I asked her a question or said something about my mother. What would it have been? ‘I miss my mother. I want to see my mother again. Do you think my mother was happy?’ I had seen those looks of his, and I’d filed them away. I hadn’t thought about it, but I realised what they were: he didn’t want me to upset his wife Em.’
So, in order to avoid upsetting Em she’d kept her questions and her grief to herself. My heart broke for this little girl so alone in her loss. However, despite being deep and poignant, the author has found a way of making the novel fantastical, quirky and even humorous. It’s suffused with love and joy. I’m so impressed with this magical debut, it absolutely charmed me from beginning to end.
Meet The Author
Helen Fisher spent her early life in America, but grew up mainly in Suffolk where she now lives with her two children. She studied Psychology at Westminster University and Ergonomics at UCL and worked as a senior evaluator in research at the RNIB. She is now a full-time author.Space Hopper is her first novel. She is currently working on her second novel.