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One of the hardest things to do well in writing fiction is to tell the little stories. Grand arcs set their own direction: great figures in history shove aside the furniture and fill the room. But to hold the story of an unheralded life in your hands, and to give it dignity and urgency – now that’s a skill.
Emily Spurr has done that and more in her stunning debut, A Million Things. Full disclosure: we share a publisher and I’ve blurbed the back cover. I did so not out of an obligation, but because this is how I love my storytelling to be.
Spurr’s gritty little hero, Rae, is a ten-year-old who lives alone. Well, not quite alone, but to say more would be a spoiler. I can tell you that she has a faithful hound called Splinter, and a friend (initially a frenemy) next door, an old lady named Lettie. Both Rae and Lettie are at odds with the world, for differing reasons. Lettie is a hoarder: Rae has a secret she cannot possibly share with anyone. The delicate interplay of their loyalties to each other, and the unreachable parts of their lives, is what makes this such a fascinating character study. That, and the frequently hilarious, poignant and ingenious ways they connive with each other to get through the day.
Rae’s off-the-page mother looms large here too, and for me she is an emblem of home, of all the unspoken things that give comfort and are more fragile than we think. The language is sharp and unadorned but it carries a significant emotional punch. Lettie and Rae don’t so much talk as spar with one another, throwing constant jabs that verge on offence and conceal affection – “kiddo” and “old goat-o”.
The elaborate lies these two unlikely partners have cooked up to protect each other are slowly compounding, and the reader knows a reckoning is due. That moment is skilfully handled, and it resonates long after the final page.
Author of “The Burning Shore”