Written in a series of chapters structured as short stories or vignettes, Stella is a child when the novel opens. She lives with her mother in a tiny flat in Bristol. She's been told that her father is dead but eventually learns that he left when she was a toddler. Stella is a curious and clever child, content to live simply with her mother and spend a lot of time with her nearby grandmother. The novel takes the reader through Stella's childhood, her becoming a teen mom and dropping out of school, living in a commune of sorts, depending on unlikely friends, going back to school as a mature adult, and eventually into her settled and somehow unsatisfactory feeling middle age. Although Stella shows promise when she's young, she makes bad decision after bad decision. Her life seems to be undirected but in fact she makes deliberate choices that lead her to each stage in her life. And after each choice, she is lucky enough to have an extended network step in and support her in moving forward.
Although a novel, the story is told entirely in Stella's voice looking back in time, making it feel like a reflective memoir. And despite it being told chronologically, there are some disconcertingly large gaps in the narrative. These gaps may not have changed Stella's character but because they are missing, some of the links between her stages in life feel like they are missing vital information as well. Stella's narration comes across as disconnected and emotionally detached. This could be because she is telling the story in hindsight but it makes it hard to feel in the moment with her and makes her life seem mundane despite events that should have added excitement. The novel's pacing is slow moving and so no matter how much I wanted to like this clearly well written novel, I just never warmed to it or to its main character who never seemed to change or develop. The bigger themes are missing here and without them, the story just meanders. As much as I loved Hadley's Married Love, set in similar situations to those that Stella finds herself in, I just didn't feel the same tug of recognition and emotional truth that was present in that collection.
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Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.