The Trick to Time is a poignant story of love and loss.
Mona, an Irishwoman nearing 60, lives in a coastal town in England where she makes dolls for a living that she sells in her shop and online. The dolls’ bodies are of wood, beautifully carved and finished by an almost reclusive carpenter who speaks little and lives in his workshop on the seafront. Mona paints and dresses the dolls – each is unique and a labour of love. Mona also helps women, who seek her out, to come to terms with the loss of a child through stillbirth. These women are, on the surface, coping with life but mourn not only the child but the future it did not have the chance to live.
From the beginning of the novel, there is a sense that Mona has suffered great loss herself and is living, to a degree, a circumscribed life. She is self-sufficient, generous and considerate but underestimates how much she means to others and seems to expect little from life. Mona is not lonely but she is alone. It is clear from her interactions with the carpenter that they have known each other for quite some time but, although Mona cares for his wellbeing, there is a restraint between them.
When Mona meets a man from a neighbouring block of flats, a comfortable friendship develops. Kurt is an elegant, sophisticated, well-travelled German some years older than Mona. He treats her with an old-fashioned courtesy and it seems that something more could grow between them if Mona would allow it.
As the novel progresses Mona’s life story is slowly revealed, from her childhood in Wexford playing on the beach with her parents to the early death of her mother and on to her arrival in 1972 in Birmingham looking for work. There Mona meets William, like her, recently come from Ireland (Galway) and working on building sites. He is as much swept away by Mona as she is by him. They marry quickly and like so many young couples struggle within tight means, all the while dreaming of their future together. But Birmingham in the early 1970s soon becomes a time and a place where it is not good to be Irish.
The novel’s narrative strands are woven seamlessly together – it is always apparent when and where Mona is. Gradually the depth of Mona’s loss is revealed and the nature and strength of her character. Her relationship with William is beautifully drawn. William, himself, is a delightful young man who combines a simplicity with exuberance for life and decency. As easily as Mona, the reader can fall in love William too.
This is a deceptively simple story written in unobtrusive prose with moments of genuine everyday humour. It also deserves a second reading as there is much that will be missed in the rush to find out what happens next. Mona and William are memorable characters and are still in my mind although I am now two books on from The Trick to Time.
Another review can be found here.