LYRICS FOR THE LOVED ONES
Next year, she’ll be a hundred, and she intends to celebrate in style. Yet, before she can make the arrangements, her ‘maid’ goes missing.
Irene, a care assistant, aims to surprise Matty with a birthday visit from the child she gave up for adoption as a young woman. But, when lockdown shuts the care-home doors, all plans are put on hold.
But Matty won’t be beaten. At least not until the Black Lives Matter protests burst her bubble and buried secrets come to light.
Will she survive to a hundred? Will she see her ‘maid’ again? Will she meet her long-lost child?
Rooted in injustice, balanced with humour, this is a bittersweet story of reckoning with hidden histories in cloistered times.
ONE – WEST CUMBRIA
“Matty would have stayed snug in her room with her precious belongings around her, but she hates to disappoint Oh My Darling. Whereas some maids are brassy, Oh My Darling was born to serve. Matty panders to her whims, no matter how outlandish, rewarding her docility as the Lord bestows His blessings on the meek”
“Her skull is a cutting room, celluloid clippings strewn across the floor. She plunges in, gathers armfuls, splices frames into a continuous strip. Things that happened meld with things that might have and things that never would. Each time, a different sequence, composed of disparate segments, creates her personal history afresh”
“There’s a simpler explanation he doesn’t want to think about. Not when he feels so rudderless himself. You’ve got to believe there’s a safety net, a limit to how far this government’s prepared to let people fall”
“Denise has no idea what it’s like to lose someone. No notion of a woman’s ties to the bairns she births. It’s fierce, that bond. You can’t clip it off like the price-tag on a new blouse. A mother’s chained for life. Even to bairns what get took away for adoption before they’ve had their first feed. Even if she never wanted them in the first place, the separation pains her. It’s nature”
“Much as they might need one. there is no saviour. Never was, never will be, but the hope of resurrection runs deep. It infects elections, producing leaders bloated with ambition but lacking in skill”
“Is it right to judge our forebears by contemporary standards?”
“Try to be the rainbow that colours your neighbours cloud”
Whilst this book would work okay as a stand alone story, it might be a little more satisfying to put events into perspective and get to know who’s who, having read the previous two episodes: Stolen Summers and Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home. Lyrics For The Loved Ones, brings closure to Matilda Windsor’s long, yet almost totally institutionalised life, in an emotionally charged yet wonderfully poignant way, although some of the wider societal issues raised within its pages deliberately remain unresolved, accurately reflecting the current position today, some three years later, when Covid is behind us, but with the aftermath set to remain highly visible, prevalent and I suspect, unresolved, for many years to come.
You might need to be aware that there are multiple trigger points for any particularly emotionally vulnerable readers, although personally I didn’t find them too troubling, as they are all part of the rich tapestry of life as we know it today and none of them took over the story in any discernible way.
In Cumbria, Matilda Windsor has spent her entire adult life in institutions, whether that be a mental health care facility, or care home for the elderly. In her middle years, half-hearted attempts to re-introduce her back into society, ended in distressing failure for all concerned. So now in 2019, as she approaches her one hundredth birthday, the end of her days continue to be mapped out for her by others, including the deadly Coronavirus Pandemic.
For the entire length of her isolation from the outside world, at the original instigation of a tyrannical father, (whom it transpires, had little room to espouse his pious words and actions) for no other reason than that she gave birth out of wedlock, Matilda’s new notion of reality has been shaped by imaginary conversations she has with her long departed mother, the firm belief that her carers are in fact the family maids and servants, (although her favourite, Oh My Darling (Clementine), has suddenly gone missing) and an unshakeable confidence that she once was an eminent stage performer, simply resting and awaiting her next big break.
Even as plans are being set in motion for Matilda’s big birthday extravaganza, the deadly new Coronavirus Pandemic takes its grip on the world and lockdown strikes, rendering any further organising useless. It transpires that the manager of the care home and two other members of staff are closely related, and that between them they have been busy purloining funds which the residents and their families have left in security for ongoing day-to-day personal needs, for other nefarious ‘expenses’, including PPE equipment when the official budgets dried up. One of the ‘caring’ family, decides that Matty, who had been determined to perform on a theatre stage for her party, should purchase a tablet and set up a fundraising page, by reciting poetry and skits online. This obviously attracts nationwide, if not worldwide, audiences and as a result, not only does the cash come pouring in, but down in Bristol, octogenarian Gloria, who was adopted from birth, is convinced that Matilda might be her long-lost mother. Unfortunately for Gloria, another of the ‘caring’ family and one of Matty’s favourite maids, Irene, who looked after Matty’s unmarried brother Henry until his death, has already decided that as her own birthday treat for Matty, she will reunite her with her long-lost daughter, although with nothing to help her in tracing the illusive personage, she has, with apparently no malintent, enlisted the help of another of her relatives, who conveniently lives in Spain out of physical reach, is of roughly the correct age and is willing to go along with Irene’s ruse.
Gloria did not have a particularly happy childhood and has spent her entire life assuming that her mother did not want her and had willingly given her up for adoption. The church has played a big part in her later life, with her becoming a stalwart member of the choir, although what she really sees as her one major triumph of success, is her son Timothy, who works in child psychiatric care. He has just accepted a marriage proposal from his long-term partner Brendan, a school librarian. However, life has a cruel way of throwing curved balls into the game, so Tim’s untimely medical diagnosis, together with the onset of lockdown, scuppers their wedding plans. Tim breathes a sigh of relief that, in compulsory isolation, he can at least hide his illness from his mother, but the subterfuge doesn’t sit well with Brendan, especially when he sees how Gloria struggles mentally with being confined to the house, so he engineers a situation which means that Tim has to come clean with her. Gloria is remarkably calm about the prognosis, even down to agreeing with her two favourite sons that they should en masse, break lockdown regulations and travel all the way up to Cumbria to meet Matty, before it is too late.
Despite the odds, Matty beats a bout of Covid, celebrates her birthday and gets to be, however briefly, reunited with the daughter she had never been allowed to meet all those decades ago, totally forgetting how she had been duped by the well-meaning Irene. At last she has become one of the Loved Ones. She has family.
And that’s a wrap folks, not a dry eye in the house!
Okay! So let’s get those potential trigger points out in the open before we go any further –
With a strong background in clinical psychology, author Anne Goodwin unashamedly, yet sympathetically, empathetically and compassionately, raises for discussion some of those often complex and difficult to deal with societal mores, which surround us in our daily lives and can result in such traumatising long-term outcomes, both physical and mental, for both the sufferers and their loved ones. Forced adoption. Psychiatric institutionalised care. The shame of a nation with the cover-up of ‘Windrush’. Black Lives Matter. Same sex marriage. The unfiltered reality of a cancer diagnosis and the impact of the Covid Pandemic on treatment and recovery. The unscrupulous behaviour of some residential care home staff, no matter how well-meaning their actions might be. The detrimental mental and physical health affects on a population under lockdown regulations. Death (often premature) and the agonising inability of family to feel solace and closure during the Covid days.
Through some wonderfully articulate, engaging and richly crafted narrative, no single one of those threads ever threatened to overwhelm this well constructed, multi-layered storyline. Hence, despite being certain that I didn’t want to read any of the inevitable ‘Covid Days’ books, what I had anticipated might be a rather intense and slightly morbid trek through 2019/2020, was actually transformed into an evocative and uplifting journey, with some periods of genuinely poignant, levity and mirth, especially when Irene decides to break the lockdown regulations in her own inimitable style and Gloria decides that a lockdown spring-clean is the way to go before she breaks all the rules!
Short chapters ensured that the transitions between the Cumbria and Bristol locations, were smooth and easy to follow, with the two separate storylines running their individual course before converging seamlessly to a satisfying closure for everyone concerned, particularly Matilda and Grace. Even though it would have by now been unlikely that Matilda would have fully comprehended all the nuances and injustices of a situation which had dominated most of her life and need never have happened, suffice that she might have finally been vindicated in her assertions all those decades ago, that she was not insane, simply heartbroken.
I approached this series with some trepidation and not a small amount of angst. However, I found myself becoming lost in a world where the characters took over from the very first page, to the final word, with me very much on the outside, looking in and eavesdropping on their lives. The atmosphere they created through their interactions and conversational, free-flowing dialogue, really lifted them off the page, made them three dimensional and brought them to life.
At first, I was a little unsure as to Anne’s thinking when she decided to single out Irene to speak in a broad Cumbrian dialect. However, it worked to perfection and definitely made her character stand out from the crowd, especially during lockdown, when she breaks the rules in a most ingenious way, which to many might seem rather strange. However, those occasions really define the essence of the story, as they highlight all too clearly Matilda’s torrid past and her relationship with her father, in a unique and totally absorbing style, whilst also offering some much needed light-hearted moments, when Irene is very lucky she is on her own and playing to a passive audience. Those moments also afforded Irene the opportunity to purge her own innermost thoughts, when many tears were shed, as it was only then that it became clear that her silence and bravado were only covering up her own inner turmoil about events which had hitherto, never been brought out into the open.
Location was never a strong factor in this final episode of the series, as I suspect it was never intended to be. Lyrics for The Loved Ones is definitely all about the story and its characters. Matty is by now, far to infirm to either leave the care home, or venture far from its doors. Similarly, Gloria and her family, are firmly entrenched in their own lives down in Bristol. For everyone, although spirits may have been lifted by the experience and the ‘knowing’, this all seems just a bit too little, a lot too late.
What typically makes reading such a wonderful experience for me, is that with each and every book, I am taken on a unique and individual journey, by some amazing authors who fire my imagination, stimulate my senses and stir my emotions. For a whole raft of personal reasons, I didn’t expect to become as lost in the pages as I did, so thank you for some truly memorable moments to treasure, Anne.
A complimentary download of this book for review purposes, was made available by the author.
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion, and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However, some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well-deserved 5 out of 5 stars!