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 whos inherited the failing button factory. As the reasons for Isas 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 towns 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 timebattered 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 charactersRuby and Isaand spins a story that feels mythical or folkloric, that is driven by a mystery, throbs with tension, and ends in conflagration. Rubys 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):
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 Crossfilthy 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 dont know what the tide might bringa whale, off-course; a raft; a barrel full of something rare and brightthe 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 Laneit kinked round at the southern end of Blickses and swelled out to a basin where the barges turned when they...
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).
Full Review (932 words).
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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