This one deceived me from the start. I was led to believe that it was going to be about this little girl flying at night. I thought that would be the main theme, but I was so so wrong. Nevertheless, I kept reading. I’m not sure what it was that kept me reading so fast, but I finished it in less than three days, and I’m not a fast reader, usually. Partly, it was because I wanted to know what happened, but also, I kinda wanted to finished it quickly, so I could move on to another book, which is not the best thing that can happen when reading. I’d normally leave a book unfinished if that is the case, but with this one, I just couldn’t, so it’s saying something. I didn’t love it, for reasons I’ll explain later, but it made me want to read it till the end, so I mustn’t have hated it either.
So it’s about Gwenni, a welsh girl living with her family in a small village in Wales, in the 1950s (but I only know this because it says so on the back of the book, it could have been the 60s or even the 70s, it’s never really specified). Gwenni is what her mother calls peculiar, or odd. She doesn’t do things like everyone else does. For starters, she claims she can fly, but only at night in her sleep. Then she sees things, like the Toby jugs blushing or sighing. She also loves reading, especially detective stories. When someone goes missing in the village, the husband of Mrs Evans, her teacher and the mother of two girls who Gwenni sometimes babysits, Gwenni decides to investigate his case. But when the body is found and the case is declared to be murder, things get complicated, and Gwenni is left to figure out secrets that no one else could ever know.
This is not just a murder mystery. It’s not even simply a murder mystery. The murderer is easily figured out, even though Gwenni takes longer as she’s missing some bits of crucial information. She’s a little older than Flavia de Luce, but Flavia could have thought Gwenni a thing or two about solving mysteries, I’m sure. The settings are indeed very similar to the The sweetness at the bottom of the pie, but the themes couldn’t be more different. Also, Gwenni’s voice is a lot younger than Flavia’s, even a bit too young for her age.
So it’s not just about the murder. It’s about secrets, things that families keep hidden for fear of being shunned or talked about behind their backs. Or about secrets that everyone knows but no one talks about because they’re too painful or embarrassing or because people would rather forget about them. But Gwenni wants to find out about all of them, to understand what is going on in her family, why is her mother always crossed with her, and why she would never talk about her grandmother… Slowly Gwenni finds out. She asks around, she listens, and sometimes she’s told, even when she doesn’t want to know. But all the time, she never gets angry or frustrated. She just keeps going. My heart ached for her when her mother blamed her for every little thing that happens in her life. To her, Gwenni can’t do anything right. She’s one of the reasons I couldn’t love this book. As you read on, you realise that her mother is slipping slowly into madness. But even before she does, you can’t help but hoping that Gwenni would say something back, rebel, get angry, ask why it’s always her fault. But she doesn’t. She seems to either accept the blame, or forgive her mother and love her no matter what. And this kind of behaviour made me love Gwenni even more but sometimes made me frustrated, as I can remember what being 12 and angry at your mother means. You don’t just swallow up and get on with it. You kick and scream and cry. At least that’s what I did. But not Gwenni. She has her Tada by her side. He seems to be the kindest, sweetest father a girl would want, and a caring, loving husband. But even though he sounds like a saint, he’s not without blame either, even though it’s only hinted at, and never fully explored.
I think I would have loved this book a lot of more, if we had spent more time with Mrs Evans. There’s always a character in a book that I crush on and this time it was Mrs Evans. She’s kind and beautiful, she’s understanding and intelligent, she’s a teacher and has hundreds of books which she offers to lend to Gwenni. Her only fault is to put up with an abusive husband. What happens to her is almost inevitable but too sad to even think about it.
The flying aspect is almost marginal, even though Gwenni talks about it all the time. We’re left to decide whether it’s her way to escape the reality of the situation, or if she can truly fly at night. It’s not too relevant, though. Which is one of the reasons why I was a bit disappointed.