Thorn Marsh was raised in a house of whispers, of meaningful glances and half-finished sentences. Now she's a journalist with a passion for truth, more devoted to her work at the London Journal than she ever was to her ex-husband.
When the newspaper is bought by media giant The Goring Group, who value sales figures over fact-checking, Thorn openly questions their methods, and promptly finds herself moved from the news desk to the midweek supplement, reporting heart-warming stories for their new segment, The Bright Side, a job to which she is spectacularly unsuited.
On a final warning and with no heart-warming news in sight, a desperate Thorn fabricates a good-news story of her own. The story, centred on an angelic apparition on Hampstead Heath, goes viral. Caught between her principles and her ambitions, Thorn goes in search of the truth behind her creation, only to find the answers locked away in the unconscious mind of a stranger.
Marika Cobbold was born with newspaper ink flowing through her veins. She used to visit her father and grandfather at their offices at the Gothenburg-Post, the Swedish broadsheet her grandfather had rescued from oblivion decades earlier.
At home, when Marika wasn't reading, she listened as the grown-ups around her discussed the issues of the day, and to the stories told by her mother and great aunt, who was a writer.
She left Sweden for England when she was nineteen, with vague plans of studying law, but eventually what her grandfather called 'the family curse' caught up with her, and some years later she wrote her first novel, Guppies For Tea. She has been writing ever since.
In the uncertain times we're living in today (hello pandemic!), it's fascinating to see how people have found that unexpected things have given them great joy, even when they haven't known they've needed them. For me, an unexpected lockdown discovery was that I really, really love spending my evenings doing embroidery (I'm as surpised as you are!), but another completely unexpected, absolute joy of my lockdown, can now absolutely be said to be 'On Hampstead Heath', the latest by Marika Cobbold, who has taken up her pen after a decade long break.
I've read plenty by the author in the past, (Drowning Rose and Aphrodite's Workshop are two that stick in my mind), and have always hugely enjoyed them, but 'On Hampstead Heath' is the first that has had me unable to tear myself away from the pages - so eager was I to find out just how much mess Thorn would find herself in, and how exactly she would wrangle her way out of it.
Cobbold's heroine, Thorn, is, as her assumed name suggest, sharp, prickly, and tricky to get close to - but she's a remarkably fun narrator for the reader - at once relatable and funny as she is moving and open.
There are many, many plot threads here - work related dramas, a relationship with an ex-husbnad, one best friend who is an elderly Jewish evacuee, and another who is dead. A burgeoning love interest, a family secret and an adorable dog too, make this a collection of threads that I imagine a lesser author would have been told to potentially edit down when telling their tales in what is a relatively short book.
Not Marika Cobbold though - her time off from writing has allowed her to come back as a master spinner of stories, and she carefully takes all of those threads and weaves them into an utterly beautiful tapestry. There's also a healthy dose of social commentary here too, as Cobbold takes on the current state of print journalism in Britain. It is (rather unsurprisingly) quite a depressing thing to read about, as experienced, dedicated journalists are put out to pasture in order to fill the ever growing need for bite-size, quick pieces of news about celebrities and gossip. A bleak state of affairs, yes - but one that lends itself ever so well to the dark comedy of Cobbold's plot - and Thorn's despair at the state of things in her industry is one I'm sure that many readers (including myself) will share.
A beautiful story by an author who is clearly on top of her game - with a skill for bringing vibrant characters to life in just a few words, and for weaving social commentary in with warm humour and a page turning plot. In short, like a bizarre but wonderful lovechild of Penelope Fitzgerald and Anita Brookner - and if you know how much I love those two authors, then you'll know that this is about as high as my praise can get!
On Hampstead Heath is a perfectly balanced novel - and whilst I was sad to leave the characters after only 250 or so pages, barely anything was left unfinished - with the ending leaving me warm and hopefuly and eager for more, more, more from this author.
Huge thanks to Midaspr for my copy of this book - I heartily encourage you all to add it to your lists in order to brighten up your gloomy spring immeasurably.