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Review: The Year Of The Rat – Clare Furniss

on May 21, 2014

Year of the RatThe Year Of The Rat
Clare Furniss
Simon & Schuster
2014, 305p
Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster AU

Pearl is 15 and her entire world has just changed with the arrival of The Rat. Used to being the only child for so long, Pearl not only had to deal with the fact that her mother was pregnant again but also then deal with the fact that the pregnancy took her mother’s life. The Rat, born by emergency caesarian section, survives and remains in hospital but after seeing her that first time, Pearl cannot bear to go back and see her again. The Rat is the reason her mother isn’t there anymore.

Pearl can’t talk to anyone about how she’s feeling. Not her best friend Molly and certainly not her dad, who is spending all his waking moments at the hospital. For Pearl, it seems that she is now on the outside looking in. She’s lost her mother and she feels abandoned by everyone else left in her life and can’t relate. She finds her best friend moving on without her, living a life that just doesn’t seem to be an option for Pearl right now. It doesn’t help that she keeps seeing her mother, although not when she wants to. Pearl can’t bear to tell her mother the truth either, about how bad things are getting at home. And about how she really feels about The Rat.

The Year Of The Rat is one of those novels that from the first page, had me totally hooked on the story. Pearl is a typical teenager who moved into a new place with her mother Stella and her father (who is not her ‘biological’ father’ but who has raised her from birth). The house needs a lot of work and Stella has had some grand ideas on what to do with it. However Stella’s ideas are often very good in theory but don’t always pan out in practice, especially as she was pregnant when they moved in. Although she did complete the nursery, the rest of the crumbling house remains unrenovated. When Stella dies from complications arising from pre-eclampsia, Pearl’s life goes from typical, to anything but.

I think that Pearl’s feelings of loss and isolation practically leap off the page. She has suffered such a terrible tragedy, they all have but they are unable to connect together as a family and begin to deal with it and move on. Pearl avoids the hospital, she stays at home in her room, she lashes out at her father, she begins to feel like she’s the one that isn’t wanted, especially when after a while, The Rat is well enough to come home. Pearl doesn’t want anything to do with The Rat, which is made difficult when her father asks her to look after her for a little while when he goes back to work. I couldn’t help but feel for Pearl during this time – she’s still very, very young and looking after a baby is a huge task. Especially one that isn’t your own and that invokes so many complicated feelings. At the same time, I’m a mother of two children myself and I was heartbroken for The Rat (aka Rose, which is her actual name!) as well. She needs so much love and attention and Pearl and her father are in a very difficult position – he’s taken his unpaid leave and needs to go back to work and there’s complications with Stella’s insurance money which means they cannot yet afford daycare or a nanny. Pearl is, temporarily, the best option. I also enjoyed the fact that spending a couple of days with The Rat didn’t automatically make Pearl fall in love with her. She makes some awful mistakes and in a way it shakes her, that she’s capable of doing such things. But at the same time, she still can’t really cope with what is being asked of her and her father makes the right decision in bringing in someone else to help. Unfortunately for Pearl, this just raises even more issues and stirs up more feeling she has about her mother.

Pearl felt so real to me – she comes across very authentically in her conversations with her relatives and her friends. I can remember lashing out at my parents in much the same way (in different situations) saying things that you know will hurt, wanting that impact and then feeling somewhat bad when you get it. I do feel as though this is very carefully balanced – you know that Pearl is hurting and she’s needing something but at the same time, she’s also being a little bit of a brat. She’s latching onto the one thing, her father not being her “real” father and loving The Rat more both because it helps justify her sense of isolation and because she knows that those accusations will be painful. Pearl needs to learn a few hard truths herself, which will be painful for her, before they can find some sort of harmony as a family again.

I loved this book – I think it’s brilliantly written and very moving. Pearl is a likable character, easily sympathised with despite her faults and her flashes of immaturity. In fact I think those parts of her are necessary – she’s a young girl who has just lost her mother, probably the most influential person in her life. She’s bound to be lost and rudderless and I think Furniss portrays this extremely well.


Book #105 of 2014


One response to “Review: The Year Of The Rat – Clare Furniss

  1. rlsharpe says:

    I’m really looking forward to reading this one. Great review, thanks for sharing 🙂

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