Book Review – Lullaby Beach by Stella Duffy

First published, 2020

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Oh, there should be more than five stars available. It’s rare you find a book that completely wipes the floor with you.

This is one of those books.

The story follows sisters, Sara and Beth, as they untangle the knot of secrets surrounding their family and the local clan who’ve been responsible for much of their pain across three generations. In the wake of familial tragedy, the sisters follow what clues they can find to bring justice to the Nelsons after a lifetime of being used, abused and exploited by their treacherous lovers and tormentors.

The subject matter is not easy, dealing as it does with domestic violence as well as emotional and sexual abuse, but the story is so well-written, this book is vital.

I’m a big film fan and ran Movie Night at my local Legion Club for eight years, so I can tell you: there are some films that are not diverting, or entertaining in the jolly, let’s-all-have-a-choc-ice sense, but they’re important. When it’s a matter of history and the atrocities therein, we might well feel the echoes some decades after the actual events depicted on screen, but that doesn’t make them easy. We might not be laughing, or at times even breathing, but sometimes we just know we’re witnessing something that truly matters. Well, that’s what this book is.

Kitty is a young woman, bored with her provincial little life in coastal Westmere, who rushes off to the excitement of 1950s London, with her rather flash boyfriend and his ambition. Little does she know, it’ll be a lot of years before she’s that hopeful again.

There’s an escalation of violence and heartache through the narrative, but one of the finest moments for all the women is when they stop apologising and start getting angry. I’m not talking about destructive, go-nowhere anger here, but rather a type of rage that acts as a catalyst to push the character forward and through some of their grief.

This is the best book I’ve read this year. The writing was strong and clear, the characters’ power, vulnerability, venom and love came off the pages in waves that almost knocked me off my sofa. I cannot tell you how utterly struck I was by this story but I’ll say this right now: if Stella Duffy writes a shopping list, I want to read it.

“‘But you don’t need to leave home. You can see Danny and stay here. We haven’t stopped you, have we? He’s older than I’d like, but when you’re both in your twenties it won’t seem such a lot. If you go up to London…’ She faltered, shook her head, stuffed the pillow into the starched pillowcase and continued, ‘There’s no getting round it, people will think you’re sleeping with him. They’ll think you’re a tart.’

“Kitty pulled up the candlewick bedspread on the single bed beneath the gable window. She ran her finger along a line of the pattern, followed the loop between two tufted rows of faded pale green. She wanted to tell her mother that they had slept together, that it was amazing, terrific, when they slept together she felt so happy in her body and alive. She smoothed the bedspread and pulled it up over the pillow. Her mother was proud of these new pillows. Kitty never wanted to be proud of pillows.”
16% in, Chapter Seven, Lullaby Beach by Stella Duffy