Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Only May by Carol Lovekin. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and for Honno for my digital review copy.
About the Book
I give you fair warning, if you’re planning on lying to me, don’t look me in the eye.
It’s May’s 17th birthday – making the air tingle with a tension she doesn’t fully understand. But she knows her mother and her aunt are being evasive; secrets are being kept.
Like her grandmother before her, May has her own magic: the bees whisper to her as they hover in the garden … the ghosts chatter in the graveyard. And she can’t be fooled by a lie.
She becomes determind to find out what is being kept from her. But when May starts to uncover her own story, she threatens to bring her mother and aunt’s carefully constructed family to the edge of destruction…
Format: Paperback (288 pages) Publisher: Honno
Publication date: 18th May 2022 Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
Find Only May on Goodreads
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I was first introduced to Carol Lovekin’s writing when I read her novel Wild Spinning Girls in February 2020. Like that earlier novel, Only May explores the impact secrets can have on family relationships.
I admired the author’s ability to create atmosphere whether that’s the birdsong-filled woodland that surrounds May’s family’s cottage or the bedroom of Billy, her disabled father. ‘The silence in the room was a void filled with the dust of distress.’ There are some wonderful descriptive passages and striking imagery. ‘Twilight falls, soft as a feather, slow as mist. My day fades, forgets its business and I follow.’ I especially liked the description of May’s hair as ‘ribbon-resistant and reckless’. Inventive touches include headings signalling breaks in the text being phrases drawn from the passages that follow, for example ‘A curious and singular hotel’ or ‘Peas in a pod’.
May is a young woman with a gift: ‘I’m the one who sees beyond the glint in your eye, around your over-confidence and straight to the truth’. At times it proves useful but sometimes it can seem like a curse, the signs that indicate a falsehood buzzing around in May’s head like a swarm of bees.
All the characters in the book are deftly drawn. There’s May’s mother, Esme, whose need for routine and obsession with cleanliness is perhaps her way of attempting to maintain control of her life. May’s aunt, Ffion, is the exact opposite. She’s a free spirit who leads a Bohemian lifestyle, living in a caravan at the bottom of the family garden. Her unique style of dress causes May to describe her at one point as ‘a cross between a Russian princess and a lady pirate’. Ffion’s chief influence on May has been to pass on her affinity with the natural world and her belief in folklore.
I was particularly drawn to Billy as a character. The vigorous young man who went off to fight in the Second World War has returned severely physically impaired and suffering from what we would now describe as post-traumatic stress disorder. He’s plagued with nightmares in which he relives the traumatic scenes he witnessed. I loved Billy’s relationship with May, their quiet companionship and his unconditional love for her. Billy is often silent but when he speaks it’s because it’s something of significance.
The life of the family eventually spins out of control when May’s suspicion there are things being kept from her by her mother, her father and her aunt are proved correct. Suddenly all the snippets of overhead conversations, chance remarks and other clues make sense. Although the nature of the secret may not come as a complete surprise to the reader and could be argued something concealed with the best of intentions, for May it is devastating. After all, she’s the girl who is supposed to have the gift of detecting lies but here is an enormous falsehood that has been hiding in plain sight all along. As she observes, ‘Some gift. A terrible, poisoned, uninvited, wicked fairy benediction. A twisted fairytale turned on its head.’ It forces her to question everything about herself and to wonder if the rift that has been created can ever be repaired.
Only May is a beautifully written, character-led story with a plot that unfolds slowly; it’s not a book to race through but to savour.
In three words: Tender, insightful, lyrical
About the Author
Carol Lovekin has Irish blood and a Welsh heart. She was born in Warwickshire and has lived in mid Wales since 1979. A feminist, she finds fiction the perfect vehicle for telling women’s collective stories. Her books reflect her love of the landscape and mythology of her adopted home.