Jules Preston: The Map of Us
Buy It: here
What The Blurb Says:
A story of love and lost directions
Violet North is wonderfully inconvenient. Abandoned by her family and lost in an imagined world of moors and adventure, her life changes in the space of just 37 words exchanged with a stranger at her front door.
Decades later, Daniel Bearing has inherited his father’s multi-million pound business, and is utterly lost. He has no idea who he is or where his life is headed.
When Violet’s granddaughter’s marriage falls apart, Tilly, always adept with numbers, compiles a detailed statistical report to pinpoint why. But the Compatibility Index Tilly creates has unforeseen consequences for everyone in her world.
Tilly and Daniel share a secret too. 10.37am, April 22nd.
Soon, a complex web of secrets and lies is exposed and an adventure begins with a blue typewriter…
What I Say:
Sometimes, a book comes along that you hadn’t really heard of, you choose it because the premise sounds a bit different, and then you realise that it is one of the most innovative, unique and eloquent novels you have read for a long time.
Well, hello and step forward The Map of Us…
The story tells of the North family, starting with the Grandmother Violet, who, having contracted polio, is abandoned by her family in a rambling house with an untamed garden, with only her imagination and a blue typewriter for company.
Violet creates the character of Arthur Galbraith, who takes walks in an imaginary landscape, entirely of her own making. She starts to type up the journeys, illustrating and devising a whole world where Arthur has travelled, using the walls in her room as the canvas for her ideas. Violet becomes a published author – under Galbraith’s name, and his landscapes become her escape from the loneliness she feels. One day, a man called Owen arrives seemingly from nowhere, with a wheelbarrow and a dog, ready to clear and maintain the gardens for Violet. As she starts to see the garden being restored to its former glory, she too emerges from the shadows of the house and falls in love with Owen.
The action moves between Violet’s story, and that of her family – Owen, their daughter Rose, and her grandchildren Tilly, Katherine and Jack. We also learn about Daniel Bearing and his father, two men who have put the profits of their health food company before living and loving. As the novel progresses, the seemingly unconnected families edge closer together in a roundabout but absolutely unavoidable way.
The Map Of Us is made up of very short, snappy chapters and can be read like individual anecdotes. The style of the novel is like nothing I have read before, and I have to admit that initially I found it a little unusual. The chapters are sometimes in prose, sometimes they seem to be poetry, and the chapter titles are things like ‘N’, ‘more sofa’ and ‘64.726%’. Don’t let it put you off. It is a clever device to keep you intrigued and to engage you while you try to work out how on earth this novel is going to work out.
The sheer brilliance of the writing and the truly clever narrative structure means that as you read, you realise that every chapter has a point to make. There is always a reason it is there, a way to understand the character, their life and why they are who they are. Little by little, chapter by chapter, the novel expands to provide us with a complete history of the North family.
As we learn about the grandchildren, we see how they attempt to navigate their way through their daily lives. Tilly is methodical and analytical, with a way of telling things exactly how they are, and an unwitting knack of saying what everyone is really thinking! Her way of coping is to rationalise everything by applying statistical analysis, even working through her marriage breakdown by constructing a Compatibility Index to understand why it happened.
Katherine hides her sadness by buying handbags she doesn’t really need, with a pitch perfect patter in justification and a husband who loves her but doesn’t know how to reach her. Their marriage seems to be stalled at a stage where you sense from the writing that their communication, like many couples in long-term relationships is characterised more by what is not said as oppose to what is…
Jack meanwhile, has become the world’s leading authority on the colour blue (I told you that this was a unique novel!), who is seemingly the most contented and free of the three siblings. However, his world is genuinely shattered when the woman he falls for turns out to be not what she seems, and as he slowly regains his connection to the world around him, he finds solace and hope in the place he least expects.
Every character in this novel feels real. They are far from perfect, they have their flaws and faults, but Jules’ skill in not being afraid to show them means we love them all the more for it. As we learn more about the Norths, and see their story weave around and through the novel, for me, the overwhelming theme is one of finding your place in the world. It may not be how you imagined it, it may be scary and difficult to imagine, but when you have the courage to be true to yourself, the rewards make it all worthwhile (and no, I am not going to spoil it by giving anything away – read it and find out!).
The Map Of Us is a beautifully crafted, intelligent book, which plays with the traditional form of the novel to tremendous effect. The characters spill out of the pages and into your heart, and it is a joy to read. It deserves to be a huge success, and Jules Preston has created a novel which will stay with you a long time after you have finished the last page.
I absolutely loved The Map Of Us, and I hope you do too.
Thank you to @Netgalley for an advance e-copy of The Map Of Us in exchange for an honest review.