Summary and book reviews of Ruby's Spoon by Anna Lawrence Pietroni

Ruby's Spoon

A Novel

By Anna Lawrence Pietroni

Ruby's Spoon
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2010,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: May 2011,
    400 pages.

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Book Summary

Cradle Cross in 1933 is a town in the heart of Black Country, England, still reeling from the Great War and dominated by a button factory in terminal decline. Into this exotically grim environment arrives a white-haired young woman from the coast named Isa Fly. Isa is a mysterious and magnetic presence who exerts a romantic pull on everyone she meets. Motherless, thirteen-year-old Ruby Tailor is instantly drawn to her, as is Captin, the proprietor of the local chip shop, a fifty-year-old bachelor and father figure to Ruby, and Truda Blick, the Oxford-educated spinster who’s inherited the failing button factory. As the reasons for Isa’s sudden appearance become less clear with each passing day, she is viewed with increasing suspicion by the tight-knit women of Cradle Cross who come to see her as the cause of the town’s accelerating misfortunes and ultimately fear her as a witch. 

Anna Lawrence Pietroni, in her fiction debut, captures for the first time the dialect of Black Country, and the effect is utterly mesmerizing. Cradle Cross is a town out of time—battered by war and yet linked to a distant past, an isolated pocket of the country whose customs and views have remained intact since medieval times, where talismans protect loved ones and rituals can help wring away the grief of loss.

Lawrence Pietroni has created two uniquely alluring characters—Ruby and Isa—and spins a story that feels mythical or folkloric, that is driven by a mystery, throbs with tension, and ends in conflagration. Ruby’s Spoon combines a gritty, hypervivid realism with the dreamlike richness of a fable.

Pietroni reads from Ruby's Spoon against the backdrop of Black Country (text excerpt below):

Chapter One

Fly, a. 1. Knowing, wide-awake. 2. Of the fingers: Nimble, skillful.

Cradle Cross was circled round with water, and Ruby could not cross it. To the east ran Ludleye Gutter, a brook that carved a broad but shallow conduit through the clay. To the north and south and west, canals curbed Cradle Cross—filthy slits of water called the Cut; beneath the waterline, wood rotted down to slime, and wire and rusted iron. Not like the sea, where you don’t know what the tide might bring—a whale, off-course; a raft; a barrel full of something rare and bright—the Cut brought barges loaded up with steel tubes, salt and coal and rivets. And two weeks before the fire that burned Horn Lane, the Cut brought Isa Fly to Cradle Cross.

The Cut ran right behind Horn Lane—it kinked round at the southern end of Blickses and swelled out to a basin where the barges turned when they...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Many a novel has begun with a stranger settling in a small town, but Anna Lawrence Pietroni has taken this familiar scenario and spun an intelligently conceived, atmospheric tale rife with maleficia, mermaid folklore, religious references... She revisits themes including revenge, the power of rumors, and the nature of cruelty (whether premeditated or simply reactionary) in ways that gradually reveal how certain characters share a common bond. Ruby's Spoon allows us to immerse ourselves in an enchanted place, and more poignantly, shows us what it truly means to support someone through any event, even when it endangers one's life.   (Reviewed by Karen Rigby).

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Media Reviews
Marie Claire

A charismatic coming-of-age tale glimmering with dark magic, lost families and closely guarded secrets.

Publishers Weekly

[W]hile the dialogue is inventive and gorgeously dialectical, the pacing is off ... If savored for character and atmosphere, fans of Hardy, Dickens, and, more recently, Michael Faber and Sarah Waters will find much to enjoy.

Booklist

Starred Review. This enthralling, suspenseful debut novel…has the feel of a grim fairy tale...Of the many riches it offers, it is the winning lead character, a lonely teen brave enough to have a dream despite her impoverished circumstances, who will capture readers’ hearts.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. A spellbinding first novel, distinguished by unforgettable storytelling.

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Beyond the Book

England's Black Country is currently defined as the West Midlands region encompassing Wolverhampton, Walsall, Dudley and Sandwell, though the specific borders have been previously debated. The name reputedly derives from the thick Staffordshire coal seam and from the area's industrial past. Once home to steel mills, coal mines, glassworks, and factories that produced chains, locks, leather, nails, cast iron and similar goods, the Black Country also inspired writers such as Elihu Berrit, whose Walks in the Black Country and Its Green Border-land begins: "The Black Country, black by day and red by night… is a section of Titanic industry, kept in murky perspiration by a sturdy set of Tubal Cains and Vulcans, week in week out, and often ...

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