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Oct 04

The Chicken Soup Murder by Maria Donovan

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Although Maria Donovan has had great success with her short stories this is her first foray into longer fiction – and I dearly hope this debut novel is swiftly followed by another. It has such warmth and humour – which isn’t bad for a story about murder and death.

Michael lives with his nan in a little town near the sea with its magic hills and the three pebbled dashed semis in a long arc. But everything is turned upside down when the Bulls move in next door and Michael’s magical creative thinking lands him in trouble: why is he the only one who thinks a murder has been committed? Can we believe his story?

As Michael struggles to help himself and the people he cares for to move on, he learns about acceptance and grief, and to what happens to those who are left behind when a loved one dies.

Reading the above you might think that this would be a maudlin, fearful book but its not like that at all. Although Donovan explores the many repercussions of death – on family, friends and neighbours, she has a light touch and paints a varied picture of grief as it is, in its everyday shabbiness and unwashed clothes, in the difficulties of holding on and letting go.

The narrator, eleven-year-old Michael, just about to go up to ‘Big School’, leads the reader through the happenings at the three semis in the street where he lives; his own home where he lives with Nan, Irma the next door neighbour and best-friend Janey and her family at the house on the end.

It would do the novel a great injustice to describe it purely as a murder mystery because it is so much more. It is about what makes a family, what holds it together and how friends and neighbours can be family too. How much they become a part of the very fabric of our lives. I was gripped until the very last sentence.

The Chicken Soup Murder was a finalist for the Dundee International Prize and is published by Seren.

Maria Donovan is a native of Dorset and has strong connections with Wales and Holland. Past career choices include training as a nurse in the Netherlands, busking with music and fire around Europe and nine years as a lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Glamorgan.

www.mariadonovan.com