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Ten years old and irrepressibly curious, Ellie lives with her fisherman father, Peter, on the wild North Yorkshire coast. It’s the 1980s and her mother’s breakdown is discussed only in whispers, with the promise ‘better by Christmas’ and no further explanation. Steering by the light of her dad’s sea-myths, her mum’s memories of home across the water, and a fierce spirit all Ten years old and irrepressibly curious, Ellie lives with her fisherman father, Peter, on the wild North Yorkshire coast. It’s the 1980s and her mother’s breakdown is discussed only in whispers, with the promise ‘better by Christmas’ and no further explanation. Steering by the light of her dad’s sea-myths, her mum’s memories of home across the water, and a fierce spirit all her own, Ellie begins to learn – in these sudden, strange circumstances – who she is and what she can become. By the time the first snowdrops show, her innocence has been shed, but at great cost. This vivacious and deeply moving novel portrays adult breakdown through the eyes of a brightly imaginative child, sensitively explores questions of responsibility and care, and, above all, celebrates the power of stories to shape, nourish and even save us.


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Ten years old and irrepressibly curious, Ellie lives with her fisherman father, Peter, on the wild North Yorkshire coast. It’s the 1980s and her mother’s breakdown is discussed only in whispers, with the promise ‘better by Christmas’ and no further explanation. Steering by the light of her dad’s sea-myths, her mum’s memories of home across the water, and a fierce spirit all Ten years old and irrepressibly curious, Ellie lives with her fisherman father, Peter, on the wild North Yorkshire coast. It’s the 1980s and her mother’s breakdown is discussed only in whispers, with the promise ‘better by Christmas’ and no further explanation. Steering by the light of her dad’s sea-myths, her mum’s memories of home across the water, and a fierce spirit all her own, Ellie begins to learn – in these sudden, strange circumstances – who she is and what she can become. By the time the first snowdrops show, her innocence has been shed, but at great cost. This vivacious and deeply moving novel portrays adult breakdown through the eyes of a brightly imaginative child, sensitively explores questions of responsibility and care, and, above all, celebrates the power of stories to shape, nourish and even save us.

58 review for How Saints Die

  1. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    “A story is like a net: you have to make your own; you have to throw the loops just right; you have to be careful what gets in and what gets out, what you catch and what you keep.” Ten-year-old Ellie Fleck isn’t like the other children in her North Yorkshire town. The daughter of Pete, a grizzled fisherman, and Kate, an Irish Catholic woman who’s in a mental hospital after a presumed suicide attempt, Ellie was raised on stories of selkies and martyrdoms. Superstition infuses her daily life, makin “A story is like a net: you have to make your own; you have to throw the loops just right; you have to be careful what gets in and what gets out, what you catch and what you keep.” Ten-year-old Ellie Fleck isn’t like the other children in her North Yorkshire town. The daughter of Pete, a grizzled fisherman, and Kate, an Irish Catholic woman who’s in a mental hospital after a presumed suicide attempt, Ellie was raised on stories of selkies and martyrdoms. Superstition infuses her daily life, making her afraid of pool trips with her classmates – it’s bad luck for fishermen to learn to swim – and leading her to expect her dead grandmother’s soul to waft in through an open window on Halloween night. What with bullies’ beatings and her teacher Mr. Lockwood’s disapproval, it’s no wonder Ellie misses lots of school, going sea-coaling with her father or running off to the coast alone instead. But with Christmas approaching and Kate due home from the hospital, Ellie’s absences warrant an official visit. Social worker May Fletcher, the mother of Ellie’s new friend Fletch, is also concerned about Ellie’s home life. “How Saints Die,” Ellie and Fletch’s gruesome skit performed as an addendum to the school Nativity play, seems like proof that something is seriously wrong. This is performance poet Carmen Marcus’s debut novel; from what I can tell it seems partially autobiographical. It powerfully conveys the pull of the sea and the isolation of an unconventional 1980s childhood. The dreamy, hypnotic prose alternates passages from Ellie’s perspective with shorter chapters from the points of view of the adults in her life, including her father, busybody neighbor Mrs. Forster, and May Fletcher. Marcus is equally skilled at the almost stream-of-consciousness passages describing Ellie’s trips to the sea and at humorous one-line descriptions: Sand and salt in the cut, stinging. Her dad would know what to do. She wants him here, now, to show her. Without him the beach takes her up entirely, the shushshush of the sea and the coarse cackle of the waders at the waters-edge, creakcrackcreakcrackyawyaw; the wind tugging at the shell of her ear. All of it pulling, nipping, cutting at her – snipsnipsnip – and now blood, her edges ragged and wet. Mrs Forster always smells faintly sweet and acidic like old Christmas cake. – What are sins? – They’re like germs but in your thoughts. It’s easy to get lost in Ellie’s supernatural world of spirits and sea wolves, while the occasional outsider views make it clear just how dangerous some of her notions could be. Like Paula Cocozza’s How to Be Human, this sets up an intriguing contrast between magic realism and madness. The language is full of transformations and fairy tale tropes. I was reminded at times of Amy Sackville’s Orkney and Fiona Melrose’s Midwinter. Although there is perhaps one perilous situation too many at the climax and the resolution is a bit drawn out (and there is also less punctuation than I would like), this is still a strong and absorbing first novel and one I fully expect to see on next year’s Baileys Women’s Prize longlist. Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    1.5*

  3. 4 out of 5

    Charles

    This was all set to be my favourite book and then it chose to continue after Chapter Thirty. The book had reached a natural ending for me here and everything after that point didn't work because there'd been no lead up to the climax we were given. I kept seeing points where this book could have ended but think the author kept on going to reach some sort of word count. It's almost as though the author got lost in the storm of her own thoughts and had no idea that she could save some of the ideas This was all set to be my favourite book and then it chose to continue after Chapter Thirty. The book had reached a natural ending for me here and everything after that point didn't work because there'd been no lead up to the climax we were given. I kept seeing points where this book could have ended but think the author kept on going to reach some sort of word count. It's almost as though the author got lost in the storm of her own thoughts and had no idea that she could save some of the ideas for later books. I had been fascinated by this strange amalgam of fairytale and religion and how Ellie was a character made of stories. I thought the relationship between she and her father was well done as they both struggle to get by. Though I was most annoyed at the portrayal of the social services as the all-seeing Big Bad. This lead to the character of May being poorly characterised and considering the topic of the story there was no need for an antagonist because their friends/neighbours/teachers were all antagonists. Childhood was captured well but I thought Ellie a lot younger from her portrayal. I also feel, upon reflection, that the book reads like a lot of composite pieces thrown together with no real strength to make them cohesive. The writing thrilled me but ultimately this story didn't have enough strength behind it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Annie

    This book is about a 10-year-old fisherman's daughter in the 1980s whose mother attempts suicide and is taken away to hospital. Doesn't sound that cheery, but I absolutely adored this. Marcus is a poet and it shows in her gorgeous, fractured, onomatopoeic prose as she puts us into the mind of a damaged child who is making stories to protect herself from the harsh reality of life. Stunning. This book is about a 10-year-old fisherman's daughter in the 1980s whose mother attempts suicide and is taken away to hospital. Doesn't sound that cheery, but I absolutely adored this. Marcus is a poet and it shows in her gorgeous, fractured, onomatopoeic prose as she puts us into the mind of a damaged child who is making stories to protect herself from the harsh reality of life. Stunning.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Fallon Leung

    A very lyrical and visceral story about 10-year old Ellie, who lives with her working-class fisherman father in North Yorkshire, England during the 1980s, coping with living in a community that stigmatizes people who go against the grain. Ellie exists in identities that intersect with one another that people around her see as bright, red flags: born in a working class family where her classmates scorn her for not having television or pop culture references; her mother is in an asylum after a sui A very lyrical and visceral story about 10-year old Ellie, who lives with her working-class fisherman father in North Yorkshire, England during the 1980s, coping with living in a community that stigmatizes people who go against the grain. Ellie exists in identities that intersect with one another that people around her see as bright, red flags: born in a working class family where her classmates scorn her for not having television or pop culture references; her mother is in an asylum after a suicide attempt as a result of undisclosed mental illness; she is discriminated from her peers and adults for her Irish heritage in a politically-charged climate where the IRA is mentioned as an overhanging threat and tool for shame; and her being conceived out of wedlock has resulted in her mother being banished from her family home, and her parents being an atypical couple is something that permeates the atmosphere of her family home. Her differences are highlighted, othered, and all under an umbrella that's labeled as 'troubled.' Ellie does not act out in school, instead just trying to get by quietly without pulling in attention from others. Despite that, her peers pick on her, deliberately misunderstand her, and her teacher participates in the bullying by calling to attention her failing grades and offbeat personality which reaffirms the class' overall disdain. Adults look at her in pity or fear while talking behind her back, and no one really does anything to pull her aside to reassure her feelings and thoughts other than saying 'if you want to talk, I'm here' without giving her reason to trust them. Everything in her world is implied and there are no clear answers that ground her to the world around her. This would have been fine if the story gives something concrete for the reader to latch onto about the events that surround all the characters instead of just implication. For example, Ellie's mother Kate has a very weak narrative despite being whom both Ellie and her father revolve their unspoken anxieties around towards and whom is the focus of much of their community's stigma against them. I can think of only two occasions in which Kate actually has a point-of-view chapter dedicated to her- one about events surrounding the past, and one short one after treatment that is actually shared with Ellie's- but ultimately it doesn't seem like there was a lot of substance going into how she's not in an institution or back to living in a community and being in Ellie's life again. Instead she's treated as someone who threatens Ellie and her father's way of life when she's back in it, and is just one more burden for Ellie to worry about hiding from her classmates and school life, and it's a perception that goes unchallenged within the text. Her followup treatment is also very unclear that compounds the vagueness of Kate's illness and about her general well-being: is she okay after treatment? Is it working? Does she need to go to followup appointments? There is nothing in the story that suggests that people outside of her family are taking care of her, so it just seems she's perpetually helpless. In the book, Kate's role seems to be the mental illness bogeyman who haunts the family and community, has trauma inflicted on her, and can only react to things happening to her without any initiative on her part. There are several point-of-view chapters that go into the nosier adults in Ellie's life, notably her next door neighbor who actually is involved in helping her family's life and May Fletcher, the mother of her only friend at schools, whose occupation is a social worker. They're supposed to be somewhat well-meaning people who upon self-reflection also know the negative effects in which a prejudiced and bigoted community has on vulnerable families due to their own personal traumas- for one, losing a child very early and not having any children, the other being a single parent- but ultimately prove to be judgmental women who put pressure on and is afraid of a weird ten-year old kid. There is actually one point-of-view chapter in May's perspective where she leads the reader to think that she's seeing that deep down the presumed stereotyping of Ellie Fleck's life and future, there is an understandable, functioning family that does their best to be free from violence and trauma. However, there is no followup to suggest that that is a thought worth investigating, and May's character carries on as the worried mother who thinks the troubled kid at school will lead her son down the wrong path at ten years old. The characters who work within institutions are predictably portrayed as neglectful at best and physically abusive at worse, while in between they are either nondescript people in uniforms who carry out their tasks that reinforces the main family's perception of their community being like a prison. The asylum staff don't seem to actually be the worst people despite being part of Kate's daily life within their walls and whom Ellie does not feel wholly comfortable with. I say they are not the worst people because the ones at Ellie's school are definitely the worst. She is bullied by her teacher and who gives ammunition for the bullies at her school to keep on tormenting her. The faculty, after seeing Ellie physically abused by her teacher towards the end of the book, chooses instead to sweep the incident under the rug and hope that Ellie keep trucking along in the same homeroom class. The only people who are supportive and kind to Ellie are her father and her friend Robin Fleck. Robin is consistently good to Ellie as he actively defends her and sees the injustice of their teacher picking on Ellie, and who picks up on his mother's unresolved fear and trepidation of her. Ellie's father is likewise kind and looks to protect her from the harshness of reality by telling her old stories and keeping her involved in his life. However as the book marches on, their limits on how to deal with the situation in their lives that affect Ellie is put to the test and ultimately shows their limits to how they can help her. However much that Robin remains a supportive friend to her and be kindred spirits, he eventually feels a little fed up in how out-of-touch on how to handle normal situations in ways that promote self-preservation, and that he is ultimately just a child like Ellie and subject to needing help as well. Ellie's father Peter seems to not understand what is happening at Ellie's school that doesn't involve a teacher's note on her being in trouble or being absent. Just like how he never talks about her mother Kate or to clearly answer questions about things going on in her life, Ellie never talks about things that are happening at school and to herself, so both father and daughter learn to dance around the subject of difficult things happening in their lives. This comes to a head later in the book when Ellie does something that endangers the life of another, and he reacts as though he expected her to have common sense even though how she perceives as common sense was something that was instilled in her by her father. It's very typical of the time period and within expectations of a single father raising a child in that time and environment where open discussion with children is not cultivated, but it is very unsatisfying that isn't a real confrontation between the two of them about what's going on in their lives. The story could stand to have an intervention by the school earlier in the book so that Ellie's school life can actually be seen by her father, because it otherwise makes it seem as though he is very out-of-touch with Ellie's own concerns and life. tl;dr: a beautifully well-written book about a child going through difficult family events and hostile school environment, but does nothing to destigmatize mental illness or have people be more understanding about people impacted by mental illness. Many characters are reactive and not proactive in the events that occur around them. Prejudice and discrimination goes unchallenged. Ellie's situation seem to actually worsen rather than improve towards the end of the book without a real definitive answer that she will be okay. Antagonistic characters keep antagonizing to the very end. Personal triumphs get undermined a lot.

  6. 4 out of 5

    B F Jones

    The subjects of mental illness and madness have been extensively explored in literature. From Shakespeare’s haunted characters to Maupassant’s classic moonlight creepiness, from Du Maurier’s unsettling visions to Bulgakov’s flying pigs, from Kafka’s nightmarish awakening to Bronte’s hysteria. Not to forget Dostoyevsky’s feverish ramblings, Gogol’s greedy descent, Poe’s demented tales or Lem’s alternate worlds. And many, many more. Alienation, delusion, nuttiness, madness, insanity, lunacy, hyster The subjects of mental illness and madness have been extensively explored in literature. From Shakespeare’s haunted characters to Maupassant’s classic moonlight creepiness, from Du Maurier’s unsettling visions to Bulgakov’s flying pigs, from Kafka’s nightmarish awakening to Bronte’s hysteria. Not to forget Dostoyevsky’s feverish ramblings, Gogol’s greedy descent, Poe’s demented tales or Lem’s alternate worlds. And many, many more. Alienation, delusion, nuttiness, madness, insanity, lunacy, hysteria. So many authors have tortured their characters over the centuries, as insanity is one of the most fascinating subjects in literature. With madness, instability or mental illness comes the “tipping point” at which one goes from being sane to being insane. The moment one’s life as they know it dissolves, its reality engulfed by the affliction they are suffering from. And this tipping point, the moment when life changes suddenly and drastically, is what Marcus explores in How Saints Die. The book tells the story of ten-year old Ellie, the quirky, imaginative, no longer a baby but not quite a grown-up girl whose world is split between the Before and the After. The Before, only ever lightly mentioned, describes the time prior to her mum being “taken away” in order to recover from an affliction she isn’t mature enough to fully understand. The After is Ellie’s daily life, split between fishing with her father, wondering what happened to her mother and getting her head around the strange place she’s been taken to and trying to fit in at school where her brutally honest, detached and imaginative attitude is perceived as trouble by her teachers and isn’t understood by her peers. “The pyjama people walk funny, with delicate slow movements, like walking on quicksand. Ellie has played quicksand by herself on the beach - slideslideslide then sink. There is a scrag-tag bird-man with berry black eyes. There is a young woman holding her hands like squirrel paws; if she fell she would not be able to stop herself. She is not going anywhere, she just walks into the corners then turns and turns. There is a man as fat as a baby siting cross-legged on the floor, and when the squirrel woman gets too close to him he throws his head back and shouts, ‘Nahnahnah’. It sounds like a baby noise, but from a man’s mouth it is hard, a stone of sound thrown in warning. Ellie sees his yellow-and-black teeth and thinks he might bite someone, ‘Nahnahnah’. No one tells him to get off the floor. “ The book revolves around Ellie’s inability to write a school assignment about her mother, resulting in her feeling of alienation, her mother being not only absent but initially perceived as a distant, detached character whose love for her daughter is fleeting. However, as the story unravels Ellie eventually finds things to say, as she grows up and understands her mother and the reasons behind her flickering mental health, and learns to cherish her quirks and talent as well as the traditions that renders her and her family unique. While her mother is away, Ellie lives alone with her father, the tight bond between them only ever affected when her father - an older parent, especially to the 1980s standards - suffers from bouts of paralysis and vertigo, leaving Ellie to summon her imaginary pet wolf that helps her cope with her struggles. Ellie’s father is the only person that understands her fully, accepts her the way she is, and never questions, only advises. Ellie’s father’s love for his wife and daughter is unconditional, undissolved, raw. His enduring of his wife’s condition makes the depicting of his own secondary until the final chapters. Ellie’s mother’s mental illness is slowly replaced by her father’s physical ailment. Charles de Gaulle once famously said “old age is a shipwreck.” This is certainly true in this book, beautifully sketching the decrepitude of her father’s boat alongside the weakening of the man. Peter’s premature weakening is due more to his illness than his age but the end result is the same - he can see his physical abilities decreasing, contributing to the chaos surrounding his family life. “He tries to right himself but he can’t pull himself level. Ellie’s seen it before, he panic. The live fish slapping on the big wooden board, slapping their tails just for the hope of water; to them the shy had looked so clean and cool and kind-letting birds ride the arc of its belly. At night, it would close its vast blue eye and rest and the fish would come to the surface to kiss the stars. That was her dad now. He needed the weight of water to hold him still, like the upside-down of her story. -Tell me my story. Her dad’s hands close gently on her shoulders and there it is between them, the current. -Where do I come from? -Hush pet, let me keep still. -Tell me my story. -All right. You come from the sea. -How? -I pulled you up in my nets. And I cut you out. I cut through the net holding you. You were blue like a porpoise. I held you. I gave you your first breath.” What make’s Marcus’s book remarkable is not only the numerous strong characters and their beautiful emergence throughout the book - light sketches turning into strong paintings - but also the multiple tipping points at which their lives suddenly comes to a definite changing moment. This gives the book its dramatic intensity. What this talented author manages to do, juggling so many dramatic moments, is never fall into the melodramatic, the far-fetched or the weepy. And when one does shed a few tears (and one will) they are as much in empathy for Ellie and her rough ride, as well as for oneself and the realisation that life is ever so fragile and intangible.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    This took a ridiculously long amount of time to read largely due to the rush of the holidays. However, the book didn't grab me; I wasn't looking for time to pick it up. However, now that I have finished it, I can easily say that it is beautifully written (albeit a little confusing and unclear) and the prose dances in your head. I'm not sure how I feel about it; it dragged but it was gorgeous at the same time This took a ridiculously long amount of time to read largely due to the rush of the holidays. However, the book didn't grab me; I wasn't looking for time to pick it up. However, now that I have finished it, I can easily say that it is beautifully written (albeit a little confusing and unclear) and the prose dances in your head. I'm not sure how I feel about it; it dragged but it was gorgeous at the same time

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jess

    ”There was once a mother, they said, who was mad, maddymadmad mental. They had heard she would open up and swallow them all, like the earth, like the big bad wolf. All laughing teeth and clapping claws. They said she’d burn their children up. So they put her out. Good riddance. That wasn’t the way it was, but that was the story they told themselves and they got full marks, well done.” Well gosh. I absolutely adored this book. The plot is a mere wisp of a thing, and overall the story does lack a b ”There was once a mother, they said, who was mad, maddymadmad mental. They had heard she would open up and swallow them all, like the earth, like the big bad wolf. All laughing teeth and clapping claws. They said she’d burn their children up. So they put her out. Good riddance. That wasn’t the way it was, but that was the story they told themselves and they got full marks, well done.” Well gosh. I absolutely adored this book. The plot is a mere wisp of a thing, and overall the story does lack a bit of cohesion and has some pacing issues. But it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with Marcus’s style, which ebbs and flows like the sea throughout, sometimes more straightforward (though always sing-songy) and sometimes really giving itself over to stream-of-consciousness. The prose itself is playful and vivid and hypnotic, creating a feeling of childlike wonderment mixed with a fair share of melancholia/darkness. It was wonderfully immersive and I felt like Marcus was making me use all my senses. ”She closes her eyes and mouth so as to feel what she’s looking for. Cottony webs and long-line hooks tickle her fingertips. Prick. Red dewdrop. Make a wish. Suck your finger.” But what made this novel more than just something “pretty” and nice to read was that it had a really strong emotional core that came through very naturally. I could sense the heart of it all the way through, which made me feel connected and intrigued despite the lack of Plotty Things. Not to mention there was a “stories about stories” element to the narrative which is almost always a plus for me <3 All in all this book and I got along splendidly and I’m really looking forward to seeing what Marcus does next!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jo

    I could almost smell and taste the salty tang of the sea when reading this novel. In parts surreal, but full of childhood wonderment and in some ways, a coming-of-age novel. Ellie Fleck and her fisherman father, Pete have a close bond, brought about by their love of the North East coastline and all the sea has to offer from myths and legends to broken crabs. Ellie Fleck doesn't fit in and finds school difficult. Her father needs little or no excuse to allow her to play truant to go picking sea c I could almost smell and taste the salty tang of the sea when reading this novel. In parts surreal, but full of childhood wonderment and in some ways, a coming-of-age novel. Ellie Fleck and her fisherman father, Pete have a close bond, brought about by their love of the North East coastline and all the sea has to offer from myths and legends to broken crabs. Ellie Fleck doesn't fit in and finds school difficult. Her father needs little or no excuse to allow her to play truant to go picking sea coal or help him mend fishing nets. When a new boy starts, Ellie befriends him and they play an elaborate game of how saints die, which culminates in a stunning performance at the Christmas Nativity and Ellie's expulsion. Ellie's mother, Kate, has had a breakdown and is in an asylum, unable to come to terms with her banishment from Ireland and the fraught relationship with her own mother. Once she comes back home, Ellie helps to coax her mother back to the real world and is pivotal in her healing process. This is very much a 'literary' novel with narrative strands weaving in and out of each other. It is set in the 1980s and there are wonderful references to the contemporary world of Grange Hill and No More Tears shampoo. This a novel to savour.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ignacio Peña

    I've been having a hard time trying to consider how best to review this book. It's a novel that must be celebrated for all of the beauty that is brimming within its pages, and the story is pulsing with an emotional core that is genuine and heartfelt. It sometimes trips itself within its execution, though I think that is something that is more due to my own personal taste as a reader. I think what Carmen Marcus does on a stylistic front was difficult and bold, and when it worked, it worked extrao I've been having a hard time trying to consider how best to review this book. It's a novel that must be celebrated for all of the beauty that is brimming within its pages, and the story is pulsing with an emotional core that is genuine and heartfelt. It sometimes trips itself within its execution, though I think that is something that is more due to my own personal taste as a reader. I think what Carmen Marcus does on a stylistic front was difficult and bold, and when it worked, it worked extraordinarily well. Sometimes, though, the fiction built around the style and the limited 3rd POV she employs stretched a bit far for me, and I fell out of sync with the language. Overall though, I think what she manages to sustain over the course of the whole novel is impressive, and ultimately lends itself to honoring Ellie's growing understanding of her very flawed parents; and where I sometimes questioned some of the choices in prose, I was nevertheless swept up in Ellie's discovery of her parents and of herself. The layers of complexity that Marcus confronts in her novel with respect to parenthood, responsibility and mental health are important, and are delicately rendered throughout.

  11. 5 out of 5

    S

    Very strange but I enjoyed it. A good example of an author doing something new with their story. That said, I'm not sure how I felt about the ending. I liked it but the build up doesn't quite feel there, like things happened that were built up early on, over come or abandoned then suddenly Happened without a catalyst to push them. It also starts to go in the 'character learned this' kind of direction, which was good, until the last chapter reiterated everything that she had been doing that was op Very strange but I enjoyed it. A good example of an author doing something new with their story. That said, I'm not sure how I felt about the ending. I liked it but the build up doesn't quite feel there, like things happened that were built up early on, over come or abandoned then suddenly Happened without a catalyst to push them. It also starts to go in the 'character learned this' kind of direction, which was good, until the last chapter reiterated everything that she had been doing that was opposite of that lesson, showing that no, she hadn't learnt anything at all. I'm not wholly sure to be honest what to say beyond it can take a few chapters to get into but its fairly enjoyable. Oh and that I feel like the descriptions written on the front and back of my book, telling me what the story is about, aren't wholly accurate to the story I got. Ellie's question was never 'Where is my Mother?'

  12. 4 out of 5

    Garrie Fletcher

    This book has revitalised my love of reading and writing. This is a simple tale told with love and an eye for detail that creates a world full of wonder, discovery, danger and poetry. The writing is very good indeed and it’s no surprise that the author is also a poet. Carmen Marcus weaves fishermen’s tales, religion, morality and parenting through the prism of a child’s need to make sense of the world when her mother has a mental breakdown. The imagery is powerful throughout: the net building, sc This book has revitalised my love of reading and writing. This is a simple tale told with love and an eye for detail that creates a world full of wonder, discovery, danger and poetry. The writing is very good indeed and it’s no surprise that the author is also a poet. Carmen Marcus weaves fishermen’s tales, religion, morality and parenting through the prism of a child’s need to make sense of the world when her mother has a mental breakdown. The imagery is powerful throughout: the net building, scavenging and sea-lore are rendered with an artists eye for detail so much so that I could taste the salt on my lips as I read. I love this book and so will you.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mr

    An interesting story, told in vivid and elegant style, with a percussive rhythm and structure showcasing Marcus’s background as a poet. Arguably, there’s a tendency to allow the writing to overpower the story and this can lead to some slightly meandering and ephemeral passages. Had there been a tighter rein kept on these aspects, I feel I would have enjoyed it more, as at its heart there is a sweet and tender novel, with strong characterisation and insightful observations on our changing attitud An interesting story, told in vivid and elegant style, with a percussive rhythm and structure showcasing Marcus’s background as a poet. Arguably, there’s a tendency to allow the writing to overpower the story and this can lead to some slightly meandering and ephemeral passages. Had there been a tighter rein kept on these aspects, I feel I would have enjoyed it more, as at its heart there is a sweet and tender novel, with strong characterisation and insightful observations on our changing attitudes to traditional ways of life.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nick Sayce

    Beautifully written book, with a prose so different that it’s almost dreamlike. Unfortunately it just felt like something was missing. Ellie was an amazing character, very three dimensional, emotional and heartbreakingly lost. Yet there was something about the book which didn’t grip me and I don’t know why (which doesn’t help when writing a review). Still I will be very interested to see what the author writes next.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jay

    I always know a book is really good when I keep stopping to underline sentences or passages and I did this all the way through. It’s a beautiful book, ethereal yet bitingly real, dealing with hard issues through harder fairytale figures. I would love to see this story made into a film one day, I think it would be incredible.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Janette Padley

    The first book club read of the year, did I enjoy it yes and no, it started very well but dragged on too long, chapter 30 was where I would gave ended it. It did give you a look at the 10 year old mind and how they see the world, which I found interesting and what a psychiatrist would make of the end I would love to know. All together an interesting if not drawn out read.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Geoff Lynas

    Absolutely beautiful writing.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay

    4.5 stars.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lucy

    An incredibly raw and thoughtful feat of writing. Words cannot begin to even describe how much empathy is soaked into this book. So beautiful.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    Exceptional and poetic in places though a little too long. I'd like to give it 3.5 stars. Carmen Marcus is definitely someone to watch out for! Exceptional and poetic in places though a little too long. I'd like to give it 3.5 stars. Carmen Marcus is definitely someone to watch out for!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    Full review to follow. When I stop emoting!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Atharv G.

    4.5 Stars A stellar debut.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Yasmien

    4,5

  24. 4 out of 5

    Signe

    3.5/5 stars A beautifully written story, and impressive debut. I somehow felt that the end was slightly rushed, and everything could have 'come together' a bit more neatly. Though the book is far from disappointing. I really liked Ella, the protagonist, she's not a perfect heroine (or some special chosen one) which is very refreshing, I could definitely relate to her. I'm excited to see which books Carmen Marcus will write in the future. 3.5/5 stars A beautifully written story, and impressive debut. I somehow felt that the end was slightly rushed, and everything could have 'come together' a bit more neatly. Though the book is far from disappointing. I really liked Ella, the protagonist, she's not a perfect heroine (or some special chosen one) which is very refreshing, I could definitely relate to her. I'm excited to see which books Carmen Marcus will write in the future.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Michael Jarvie

    One of the first things that one notices is how the author’s poetic imagination conjures up a richly varied soundscape: “thudtickticktick” goes the gutting knife as a fish is sliced open, for example. The visual delights of the book include a description of some beached cobles lined up like shoes outside the school hall for PE. How Saints Die is a specifically Northern tale set in Saltburn-by-the Sea and its environs, with its “sneck,” “ginnel” and the “croggy-bar” on dad’s bike. It is a world of One of the first things that one notices is how the author’s poetic imagination conjures up a richly varied soundscape: “thudtickticktick” goes the gutting knife as a fish is sliced open, for example. The visual delights of the book include a description of some beached cobles lined up like shoes outside the school hall for PE. How Saints Die is a specifically Northern tale set in Saltburn-by-the Sea and its environs, with its “sneck,” “ginnel” and the “croggy-bar” on dad’s bike. It is a world of Ringtons wafers, cream soda and dolly mixtures. Sometimes this old-fashioned world is expressed by the vocabulary itself – “whilst” instead of “while” for instance. Here, in this coastal location, fisherman, Peter Fleck, and his ten-year-old daughter, Ellie, scavenge for sea-coal or bits and pieces of salvage thrown up by the tide. According to sea lore, everything is “bad luck” for Peter – such as touching a fish’s eye, or looking back to the shore, or learning to swim. Meanwhile, mother Kate, of Irish Catholic extraction, is with the “Pyjama people” and “not-angels” of the psychiatric hospital where she is drugged and given ECT. Consulting a calendar leads me to believe that the novel is set in 1987 when the 7th of December fell on a Monday. Other markers in the text are provided by an IRA atrocity (Warrenpoint?) and television programmes such as Dogtanian and Grange Hill. School life for Ellie is a fraught experience, since she is a wild child who urgently needs to be reunited with her mother. Although the pupils in her school make “Christingles” – those gewgaws that smack of Popery, but which were actually an invention of German Protestantism – Ellie seems to return to her mother’s Catholic roots when she and a school friend, Robin Fletcher, instead of performing a traditional Nativity play, devise a scenario acting out the deaths of various saints. Hence the title of the book. Throughout the text I noticed only a handful of errors in the printing. Mrs Forster was misspelled on one occasion as Foster, and on page 198 I was puzzled by the past tense of the verb “dive” rendered by its American version “dove.” I’ve awarded this book four stars since I am a strict marker, and because I have no doubt that Carmen Marcus can do even better next time.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sussi Louise Smith

    jUST INCREDIBLE.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Christine Pratt

  28. 4 out of 5

    Caroline Chapman

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kristen

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jez Davis

  31. 5 out of 5

    Sonia_Lena

  32. 5 out of 5

    Darcie

  33. 4 out of 5

    Lilly

  34. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

  35. 5 out of 5

    Lilit

  36. 5 out of 5

    Anna Gallet

  37. 5 out of 5

    Shoon

  38. 4 out of 5

    Tammi

  39. 4 out of 5

    Shea Bove

  40. 4 out of 5

    Patty Killion

  41. 5 out of 5

    Ines

  42. 4 out of 5

    Katie Collins

  43. 4 out of 5

    James Elliott

  44. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

  45. 5 out of 5

    emma

  46. 4 out of 5

    Jackie

  47. 5 out of 5

    Kate Walton

  48. 5 out of 5

    Meggie Belacqua

  49. 4 out of 5

    Jamie-Lee Whiteman

  50. 5 out of 5

    nicole

  51. 4 out of 5

    Anna

  52. 4 out of 5

    Austin Brown

  53. 4 out of 5

    Tchomp

  54. 5 out of 5

    Emilie

  55. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

  56. 5 out of 5

    Mary

  57. 4 out of 5

    anna marie

  58. 4 out of 5

    Joanna Dobson

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