Women's Prize for Fiction 2018: The Trick to Time

A heartwrenching exploration of grief

Women's Prize for Fiction 2018: The Trick to Time

Mona is a 59 year old Irish woman living in England, as she faces changes in her life, meeting neighbour Karl, and a milestone birthday, she reflects on her life and a series of traumatic events that have led to where she is now.

The Trick to Time deals with grief, longing, loss and how people cope with these, questioning what it means to move on and ‘live’ our lives. It is a compelling narrative, flashing back to Mona’s youth in Ireland and young adulthood in England. There is a mystery at the heart of the novel about what has happened to Mona; though this becomes relatively easy to deduce as the novel moves forward, the reader continues to elicit more and more detail throughout. It is no surprise that as Mona’s young adult life takes place in 1970s Birmingham, the IRA features tying the novel to a specific historical moment.

However, far from a socio-political narrative, the book is focused on the issues of individuals, the struggles of Mona and her new husband William. Moreover these individuals are well rounded and endearing – it is easy to sympathise with Mona while she navigates a new relationship with the charming Karl, or to smile at the kindness of Gayle or Mona’s other friends.

For a novel which deals with the complex topics that de Waal touches on – which very much deal with female experiences and ones not often explored within literature, I was disappointed by a few oversights. There is entrenched sexism in many of the interactions which go unchallenged and I found it difficult to come to terms with the main plot twist. At least on this occasion, the character of the doctor voiced my perspective, but short of this passing remark the complexities of what happens go unexplored.

Perhaps de Waal simply wants to challenge us with this concept – though considering the novel’s conclusion I found this frustrating. It was difficult to imagine that scenario would take place, especially with a woman such as Mona, who is clearly a tenacious and ambitious woman, who takes no nonsense in her relationship with Karl for example.

The book was an intense exploration of how trauma can affect people’s lives, with interesting plot twists and a gripping narrative. As such it was an enjoyable read, albeit an emotional one.

  • This review was first published on the author's own blog See Orange


Ellen Orange

Ellen Orange Contributor

I am a 24 year old Marketing Officer from the North East with a passion for arts and writing. I did a BA in English Literature and an MA in Twentieth and Twenty First Century Literature at Durham University, because I love books and reading! I have experience in writing for a variety of student publications, as well as having contributed to Living North, a regional magazine and Culture magazine, a supplement to regional newspaper, The Journal. I have been part of a Young Journalists scheme writing for NewcastleGateshead's Juice Festival, a young people's arts and culture festival, and have since become a Team Juice member. As well as reading and writing, I love theatre, photography and crafts.

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  • Luke Taylor

    On 11 May 2018, 10:09 Luke Taylor Contributor commented:

    Sounds like there is a lot to grasp - the exploits of the IRA is definitely a heavy issue in itself...

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