Madame Burova – Tarot Reader, Palmist and Clairvoyant is retiring and leaving her booth on the Brighton seafront after fifty years.
Imelda Burova has spent a lifetime keeping other people’s secrets and her silence has come at a price. She has seen the lovers and the liars, the angels and the devils, the dreamers and the fools. Her cards had unmasked them all and her cards never lied. But Madame Burova is weary of other people’s lives and other people’s secrets, she needs rest and a little piece of life for herself. Before that, however, she has to fulfill a promise made a long time ago. She holds two brown envelopes in her hand, and she has to deliver them.
In London, it is time for another woman to make a fresh start. Billie has lost her university job, her marriage, and her place in the world when she discovers something that leaves her very identity in question. Determined to find answers, she must follow a trail which might just lead right to Madame Burova’s door.
In a story spanning over fifty years, Ruth Hogan conjures a magical world of 1970s holiday camps and seaside entertainers, eccentrics, heroes and villains, the lost and the found. Young people, with their lives before them, make choices which echo down the years. And a wall of death rider is part of a love story which will last through time.
Ruth was born in the house where her parents still live in Bedford. As a child, she loved the Brownies but hated the Guides, was obsessed with ponies and read everything she could lay my hands on. Luckily, her mum worked in a bookshop. Her favourite reads were The Moomintrolls, A Hundred Million Francs, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the back of cereal packets, and gravestones.
Ruth passed enough ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels to get a place at Goldsmiths College, University of London, to study English and Drama. It was a brilliant time for her and she loved it. And then she got a proper job, working for ten years in a senior local government position (Human Resources – Recruitment, Diversity and Training). She was a square peg in round hole, but it paid the bills and mortgage.
In her early thirties Ruth had a car accident which left her unable to work full-time and convinced her to start writing seriously. She got a part-time job as an osteopath’s receptionist and spent all her spare time writing. It was all going well, but then in 2012 she got Cancer, which was bloody inconvenient but precipitated an exciting hair journey from bald to a peroxide blonde Annie Lennox crop. When chemo kept her her all night she passed the time writing, and the eventual result was her debut novel, The Keeper Of Lost Things.
Ruth lives in a chaotic Victorian house with an assortment of rescue dogs and her long-suffering husband. She spends all her free time writing or thinking about it and has notebooks in every room so that she can write down any ideas before she forgets them. She is a magpie; always collecting treasures (or ‘junk’ depending on your point of view) and a huge John Betjeman fan. Her favourite word is ‘antimacassar’ and she still likes reading gravestones.
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“Although I write fiction, I believe that for my stories to read authentically some elements must have their foundations in fact. Parts of this novel are based in the UK in the early 1970s, in a place and time where I grew up, and I have portrayed society as I remember it rather than how I would wish it to have been. The first legislation protecting individuals from discrimination in the grounds of race, gender and marital status had yet to come into force and I experienced first-hand the cultural, social and political climate that prevailed on the streets, in the playground, on the TV and radio and in the press. Society was openly racist and sexist, and attitudes and actions that were commonplace then, are painfully unpalatable and rightly condemned today. We have come a long way since then, but we still have a long way to go”
Madame Burova was a woman who knew where the bodies were buried. She had spent a lifetime keeping other people’s secrets and her silence had come at a price. Some revelations – forbidden affairs and minor indiscretions – had been easy enough to bear. Like feathers on the wind. But others, dark and disturbing, had pricked her conscience and been a burden on her soul. She had seen the lovers and the liars, the angels and the devils, the dreamers and the fools. Her cards had unmasked them all and her cards never lied. Madame Burova knew the killer, the victim and the murder weapon.
Imelda Burova checked her appearance in the bedroom mirror and was satisfied. So was Rod Stewart. ‘You wear it well’, he sang, his voice rasping out from the small radio sitting on her dressing table. The dress, a green velvet midi with a fitted bodice and balloon sleeves, was Biba and had been bought especially for today on her last trip to London with her mother, Shunty-Mae. Today was Imelda’s first day as proprietress of the family’s dukkering booth on the promenade. Shunty-Mae had taken it over from her own mother, and it was there that she had taught Imelda to read palms and tarot cards, and to fathom the past and future from the depths of a crystal ball. Various Romany aunts and cousins had helped out for a summer season here and there, but the booth belonged to Shunty-Mae and now she was handing it over to her only daughter. Madame Burova – Tarot Reader, Palmist and Clairvoyant.
“Treasure wasn’t black, but he wasn’t white enough for some people either, and no man’s land was never a safe or comfortable place to be”
“She had thought that a visit to the Foundling Museum might help. But it hadn’t. The buttons, pennies and scraps of cloth left by desperate mothers as tokens by which they could identify their children, should they ever return to collect them, were heart-breaking to see. The humblest of objects, vessels for the most precious hopes, however remote they might have been. The final, fragile umbilical thread between mother and child”
“Could trust be incremental or was it an absolute that, once licked by a flame of deceit, crumbled like paper into ashes?”
“But honesty and its aftermath were sometimes hard to bear, and what she did was who she was – a vocation from which there was no vacation”
“The secrets she had been trusted to keep, the confessions she had heard, the pasts she had revealed and the futures she had foretold returned, not so much as memories, but rather they seeped from the dark, draped walls of the booth and swirled around her and through her like ghosts. They were a part of her that she could never fully escape”
“When we look up, wherever we are in the world, we see the same sky. We each may have a different vantage point, but we are all looking at the same sun, the same moon and stars. That’s how it works with God, in my opinion. I’m sure he doesn’t care how we worship or what we call him. Perhaps simply having faith in him and living by it is enough and the trappings of religion are only fripperies”
“Love always matters, no matter how fleeting, how messy, how painful. It always matters”
“Imelda felt sick; a muddle of shifting emotions, each taking turns to rise and fall in both intensity and significance, manifest in a single physical symptom. She felt excited at the prospect of seeing him, angry with him, guilty for doubting him, stupid for trusting him, frightened of losing him, frightened for wanting him. So badly. She felt as though she was falling but had no idea where she might land”
“Don’t tell me that you’ve become one of those people who post everything they eat and drink on Instagram!’ She knew that it was now a way of life for some people, but to her it seemed to be a way instead of life. No matter that your souffle was sagging by the time you actually ate it, so long as its erstwhile perfection was photographically flaunted for the benefit of your followers”
“Imelda Burova has spent a lifetime keeping other people’s secrets and her silence has come at a price”
Wow! This story held so many unexpected surprises, that trying to shoehorn it into a specific genre, is almost impossible for me. Maybe a cozy mystery with mystical fantasy undertones, would be a good first pass. However there were also so many underlying cultural and social mores which were examined under the spotlight, with some subtle twists and turns in the storyline, that the whole experience became so much more than the sum of its individual elements.
Set in Brighton, a place which the author knows so well and loves so much, this dual timeline story seamlessly jumps back and forth between the early 1970s and the present day and is narrated in short, well signposted chapters. The footprint of the storyline stretches much further afield than the promenade of Brighton’s seafront, however that is where much of the action takes place, in one small corner where little seems to have changed over the course of the last five decades, with Imelda’s booth and the adjacent cafe still recognisable, although the cafe has undergone a change of name. However, nearby Larkins Holiday Park where destinies are foretold, star quality is noticed and hearts are won and broken, is sadly destined to be no more by the time we reach the present day!
In 1972, teenager Imelda Burova, the only daughter of a feisty Romany mother and Russian father, is set to take over the reigns of her mother’s successful, “Tarot Reader, Palmist and Clairvoyant” booth. The ‘gift’ has been passed down through the generations of her mother’s family and Shunty-Mae now feels that Imelda is ready for the responsibility, although letting go completely is going to be very difficult (no make that impossible) to do, as Imelda is about to find out, especially when Shunty meets Dasha, a stray Borzoi Imelda has adopted and who goes everywhere with her, including the booth! This is essentially Imelda’s story; about the people she meets, the friendships she forges, the battles she fights over affairs of the heart, an all consuming love story which was never destined for a happy ending and the mystery surrounding an abandoned bundle of joy.
All this set against the backdrop of a time, which probably places the author and myself at a similar age, as my memories are almost identical to her own, when society was overtly racist and sexist, mixed race marriages were taboo and the bigots always chose to vent their feelings on the mixed race child who couldn’t fight back. Pregnancy outside of marriage was inconceivable, so adoption and foundling babies were an increasing statistic. Being openly gay, although decriminalisation of homosexuality was enacted in 1967, was condemned and retribution for ‘coming out’ was swift and often painful. Imelda soon realises that she is a confidante for the troubles of some of her regular clients, with the booth often doubling as a mini confessional, to the point where she eventually invests in a small, hidden, safe area, where her regulars can deposit their secret treasures for safekeeping and discretion.
Fast forward to the present day and a still single Imelda, is contemplating covering her crystal ball and dealing the tarot cards for one last time, before retirement. She has one last ‘confessional’ promise to honour, although this one is also very personal to her and has the potential to either make her very happy, or shatter her already broken heart irrevocably. She wavers about actually opening the envelopes left in her possession, however professional pride won’t allow her to leave this particular job unfinished and a promise left unfulfilled. The next few weeks sees Imelda’s life turned upside down and inside out, changing in ways she might never have imagined, when old friends are reunited, new relationships are forged and she can make peace with herself when a ghost is finally laid to rest. When Billie and Henry arrive on the scene in search of the truth, does this signify the end of an era, or the beginning of a whole new chapter for Imelda?
Trying to offer up a non-spoiler trailer for this complex storyline was so difficult in such a few words. This is a multi-layered, well structured, quite unique and unconventional story, which throws into focus an era of cultural and societal history, which is dealt with sensitively, whilst at the same time exposing prejudice for what it was and still is and confronting it head on. There are also some sad, poignant and profoundly touching moments for Imelda, for whom her devotion to her one and only love, seems to have destined her to live her life alone. The narrative and dialogue is fluent, rich in atmosphere and wonderfully textured, making every word count and managing to evoke a very visual sense of time and place into which I could immerse myself; so much so that I could almost imagine myself back in the 1970s joining in the fun of a holiday park entertainment evening; or in my later years, walking along the promenade enjoying an ice cream in the summer sunshine, perhaps stopping to rest my feet for a time, joining Imelda and her friends for a drink and snack in the cafe.
There are plenty of red herrings and twists craftily woven into this intriguing storyline, to hype up the tension a little and I kept wavering about who might have been Imelda’s mystery couple, or if indeed this might have been much more personal to Imelda herself, but ultimately I was only ever destined to be partly correct, with the remainder of the final reveal being a huge, but pleasant surprise, to just about everyone concerned.
Author Ruth Hogan has gathered together a large, diverse and eclectic, sprawling cast of multi-faceted, unique and colourful characters, many of whom transcend the passing of time and all of whom are given a voice which is loud and clear enough with which to tell their own story. There is some excellent camaraderie and great synergy between them, although as you might expect in such a large group, there are the obvious rivalries and jealousies, together with a complex jigsaw of human emotions, which often make them rather vulnerable and often volatile. I don’t think that any of them were particularly easy for me to identify with, or invest in; however I believe that in their own way they were compelling and addictive, vibrant and genuine to the roles they had been allocated.
Another new to me author, who persuaded me to read out of my natural comfort zone, then led me on an amazing journey, which fired my imagination, stirred my emotions, stimulated my senses and evoked so many memories of the past. Could I have asked for anything more!
A complimentary kindle download of this book for review, was made available by the publisher Two Roads Books and supplied by NetGalley.
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!
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