A big thank you to the team over at HQ for having me on the blog tour! This book was simply stunning and will undoubtedly haunt me for weeks to come. Beautifully written and compelling, I am a fan of Polly’s words and having not read The Illustrated Child, I will definitely make sure to find a spot for it on my 2022 TBR pile.
When Tartelin Brown accepts a job with the reclusive Marianne Stourbridge, she finds herself on a wild island with a mysterious history.
Tartelin is tasked with hunting butterflies for Marianne’s research. But she quickly uncovers something far more intriguing than the curious creatures that inhabit the landscape.
Because the island and Marianne share a remarkable history, and what happened all those years ago has left its scars, and some terrible secrets.
As Tartelin pieces together Marianne’s connection to the island, she must confront her own reasons for being there. Can the two women finally face up to the painful memories that bind them so tightly to the past?
Atmospheric and deeply emotional, The Unravelling is the captivating novel from the author of The Illustrated Child.
“The sea is made up of unspeakable sadness”
1927: on their hauntingly beautiful island, the Stourbridge family seem to prosper. Marianne loves spending time with her father, chasing after butterflies, studying them, collecting them. But as he decides to expand his business interests beyond herring fishing, he begins to grow more distant. He wants Marianne to inherit his new silkworm venture, his magnanery. And to manage it, he brings in a new girl from France: Nan. Enigmatic and knowledgeable, she will trigger Marianne out of her boundaries, out of childhood, and shake her world for ever.
2018: Marianne is back onto the island after it was requisitioned during the war. Now much older and incapacitated, she is looking for an assistant to help her pursue her lepidopterist’s interests, studying mutations that have occurred here since she left. She is a recluse, difficult to interact with, a very complex character, hiding many hardships and an immense grief behind her tough facade.
When Tartelin arrives and starts working for her, she becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to her, her history. Mourning herself the recent passing of her adoptive mother, this peculiar place without electricity or internet, disconnected from the rest of the world, is the perfect escape from the pain.
She is forced to face the horrible reality that the one special person in her life is no longer with her. Always an outsider, with her ever so special ruffle of skin on her cheek, she connected with her mother in a way not many people ever will.
“It is impossible to watch someone you love die”
Tartelin’s sorrow becomes more and more palpable as she embarks on this therapeutic journey within this ethereal refuge. She feels a growing connection with this strange woman and her island. The more she explores, trying to coax Marianne along out of her shell, the more she hopes to soothe the pains, put the ghosts to rests, unravel the mysteries surrounding this place and its inhabitants. As she hunts butterflies, she also hunts for the truth; about Marianne, about the island, about herself, about life.
“The pull of it. Magnetic. As if it wants me to search out its secrets.”
Unearthing secrets page after page, opening windows into the past, you get to delve deep into the protagonists’s feelings, their evolving relationship, and it makes you question your own relationship to nature, to life and death.
Polly Crosby’s writing is absolute perfection. The story unfolds in such a poetic way, the words so delicate, touching you with the fragility of butterfly wings, something about it reaching out deep into your emotions, into the extraordinary depth of the characters, allowing you to feel the grief, the briefness of life, the atmospheric island and the magic of it all. Stunning.
There is something immensely sad about this book, but it is also full of hope. As much as things mutate, some things remain the same, like anchors. Once the island takes a hold of you, it will never let you go.
Out now with HQ Stories
— About Polly Crosby —
After a whirlwind of a year which saw Polly receive writing scholarships from both Curtis Brown Creative and The University of East Anglia’s MA in Creative Writing, she went on to be runner up in the Bridport Prize’s Peggy Chapman Andrews Award for a First Novel. Read Polly’s piece for the Bridport Prize’s blog here.
Polly’s novel was snapped up by HarperCollins HQ in the UK and Commonwealth in a 48 hour pre-empt, and a few days later by HarperCollins Park Row Books in North America.
Polly grew up on the Suffolk coast, and now lives in the heart of Norfolk with her husband and son, and her very loud and much loved rescue Oriental cat, Dali.
The Illustrated Child is her first novel. Her second novel, The Unravelling, is out on 6th January ‘22.
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