Once in a while, a book comes along that’s just completely different from anything else. It can’t be classified into any genre, or have any sort of label slapped on it. But it makes the reader think, and smile, shed a tear or two, possibly spend some time reminiscing on their own life, trying to make good on one or two relationships that may have fallen by the wayside and making a promise to change some things for the better. The Locked Away Life might make you do some, or maybe all of these things! Or maybe you won’t do any and you’ll just admire the gorgeous cover.
Esther is 82 years old. She’s hidden herself away in the house on the hill for many years after a scandalous episode in her past changed her life forever, tarnished her name and made her want to disappear. She has a pretty good idea what everyone says about her; she’s heard it all before and she’s actually beyond caring. But now, with ill health (and let’s face it: old age) catching up with her, and her daughter Jane, constantly hounding her she realises that she needs to stay on top of things, and that means coming out of hiding. She wants to find out the truth about why the love of her life did what he did all those years ago, changing her life forever. And she also wants desperately to prove to her daughter that she’s able to continue living independently.
Bruno is 18 years old. He’s finished school and is looking for any (legal) way he can to earn himself some money, without having to resort to working in one of the local warehouses. So he washes windows and he helps his mum in her hair salon. But it’s just not enough, and anyway, if his mum’s paying him then he figures he’s not exactly contributing to his family’s finances, he’s actually taking away from them! Since his dad got sick, he hasn’t been able to work, and they’ve really been struggling. Bruno would love to step in and be able to help more, but he’s never been the confident type. He was bullied at school and he’s aware that his Romany background is often looked down on. But it’s more than that … he just can’t quite find himself, or figure out who he’s supposed to be. Why does everyone else seem to find it so easy? And why does he constantly find himself instructing his wrists and hands to behave differently to how they naturally seem to want to?
When Bruno sees an advert at his mum’s salon asking for someone to help an elderly person with technology and advice on the Internet, he knows this is something he can do easily. More importantly, it says that it’s a ‘paid position’. So he makes the long trek up the hill. Esther opens the door, sees Bruno, and immediately declares that he is her “Dear Heart!” And so, an extremely unlikely friendship between the two begins.
Make no mistake, it’s definitely not smooth sailing, but it does make for some hilarious reading. For one thing, Bruno barely understands most of what Esther is saying! She certainly speaks as though she’s from a bygone era – which she actually is! Their relationship is rocky, and what with each of them being approached by external (mostly well-meaning) parties and being asked to keep an eye on the other, there are many, many misunderstandings and upsets. But the over-riding force of a strong and caring friendship is what keeps bringing these two misfits together.
Drew Davies does not avoid a variety of complex themes here: friendship across the age divide, family dynamics, self-awareness, aging, confidence, sexuality, independence (and what that means at different ages and stages), illness and coming to terms with one’s life choices. It’s a lot! But Davies manages to handle it all sensitively, and with an ample amount of empathy and compassion without ever descending to the depths of melodrama or mushy sentimentality. It all makes for a beautiful 4 star read.
Thank you to Bookouture for this Books on Tour …
Drew Davies was born in London and grew up in Whanganui, New Zealand. He attended the Unitec School of Performing Arts in Auckland and won a Playmarket New Zealand Young Playwright of the Year award in 2000. After a brief stint on a kiwi soap, he has worked in Search for the past 15 years. Drew’s other claim to fame is that Stephen Fry once called him droll. Either that, or he got his name wrong. He now lives in Wanstead, London.
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