SHORT & SWEET REVIEW: THE MARBLE COLLECTOR BY CECILIA AHERN

Note, the format of my Short and Sweet reviews differs in that they simply comprise the book blurb and a short response (hence, the short and sweet).

Remember playing marbles? I didn’t play marbles a lot, but the boys at school did and I can still remember them bandying about terms like: steelies, clearies, cats eyes, and shooters. Reading The Marble Collector brought a rush of nostalgia for the days when kids played with things other than iPads, games consoles and phones. The story is about some lost marbles, as well as a lost identity. Here’s the blurb:

What if you only had one day to find out who you really were? When Sabrina Boggs stumbles upon a mysterious collection of her father’s possessions, she discovers a truth where she never knew there was a lie. The familiar man she grew up with is suddenly a stranger to her. An unexpected break in her monotonous daily routine leaves her just one day to unlock the secrets of the man she thought she knew. A day that unearths memories, stories and people she never knew existed. A day that changes her and those around her forever. The Marble Collector is a thought-provoking novel about how the most ordinary decisions we make can have the most extraordinary consequences for how we live our lives. And how sometimes it’s only by shining on a light on someone else, that you can truly understand yourself.

Told from two perspectives – Sabrina and her father Fergus – The Marble Collector explores memory and identity, and the way they go hand in hand. Over the course of a day, Sabrina discovers a new side to her father – not only was he a marble collector, but a marble-playing champion. Even Sabrina’s mother was unaware of this side to her ex-husband. Sabrina’s emerging insights facilitate her own self-discovery.

The Marble Collector got off to a slow start for me – I didn’t engage with Sabrina’s character initially. In contrast, Fergus’s story, beginning when he was about six years old and locked in a dark cupboard by an abusive priest, was compelling. It was his voice that kept me reading and of the two voices and characters, his was better drawn. The flashbacks to his childhood and adult life (prior to being struck down by a stroke) were poignant and colourful; equally poignant was the realisation that Fergus had to keep his ‘colourful’ family distant and true self hidden from the woman who was supposed to love him ’till death do us part’. How many times does that happen in a relationship, or in life? (Think of Facebook and the selected ‘faces’ we show to our connections.)

Overall, a sweetly touching story with a touch of magical realism (Sabrina’s story unfolds in one day, an element that didn’t quite work for me). There are plenty of gushing reviews on Goodreads, but for me, this one didn’t quite hit the love it spot.

Available from good bookstores (RRP $29.99AUD). My copy was courtesy of HarperCollins Australia.