Do you ever wonder how much your past has shaped you? Whether you are clay in the hands of your ancestors who have slowly been molding you to take the shape of the person you are right now? These are some of the questions that Heidi James’ new novel The Sound Mirror asks.
The Sound Mirror is split into three narratives following three women from three generations and their stories. If you are apprehensive of such narrative construction, don’t be. The narrative voices are so distinct that even a sentence will be enough for you to know whose story you are currently exploring. There is Tamara and the book opens with her. Tamara is the centre of this novel. Set in the present day, her story jumps from past to present and slowly reveals why and how Tamara came to be the person she is nowadays. There is Claire; a smart and vivacious girl whose life we see unfold on the pages. And then there is Ada; a British-Indian in constant search of a place to belong to.
Three women with three different stories which are, not surprisingly, intertwined. With each page the three narratives slowly show us more of these characters. In the present day, Tamara is on a journey to a hospital where her mother is dying. The juxtaposition of her past and present reveals the complex relationship she has with her mother. Traumatised by her childhood, Tamara is still struggling with herself, her history, and her place in the world. This sense of being misplaced or not belonging is more accurately portrayed through the character of Ada. She is not British enough to be fully accepted in her new home but also no longer Indian enough to entirely belong to her old homeland.
Ada fully embodies the feeling of being in-between that many immigrants experience. Page after page we see Ada’s life unfold. Although she achieves a respectable and successful life, a good marriage, and a happy family, deep down through her feeling and thoughts we, the readers, see it is all a sham, a rebellion against all the constraints and ill feelings that are festering within Ada. For years ill feelings also fester in Claire. The young girl we meet on the first few pages of the novel comes to be a mother of many. Although her marriage is happier than Ada’s there is this constant feeling of being cheated out of life. Her education gets cut short because she is a girl, society and her family ostracise her when she becomes pregnant out of wedlock and despite her vow to be different from her own mother in the end Claire becomes a copy image of her. We see the many highs in Claire’s life and when we compare them to the many lows and slowly a picture emerges that shows us the many social constructions that bind and steal from women, silence the female voice and the female need and want to be more than just a mother.
Motherhood, as you have already guessed, is the axis around which the novel spins. Reminiscent of the Greek chorus found in many ancient tragedies, The Sound Mirror features the voice of the ancestors, the DNA that flows in the veins of Tamara, the many women who have been before her and who are there to shape her. It is a brilliant narrative technique and it brings a unique voice to the reading experience. This accumulated female history clashes in Tamara and reshapes her and vice versa Tamara through her own, independent actions will reshape the future history of her line to come. However, it is worth mentioning that it is not just motherhood that we see on the pages of The Sound Mirror. Often unexplored or left unmentioned the figure of the grandmother features in the novel. We often focus on the mother as the source of life but there is so much to be said about the role of the grandmother and the way she shapes a child’s life, and I am so pleased that Heidi James has decided to include short snippets on the experience of being a grandparent.
As a whole, The Sound Mirror will take your breath away. The prose is raw and beautiful and doesn’t shy away from packing a punch and discussing life and its ugliness. From history and emancipation to missed opportunities and small acts of rebellion The Sound Mirror by Heidi James offers us a new way to see womanhood, motherhood, and ancestral history. The women on the pages are real and so are their struggles, their triumphs and their mistakes that end up shaping the next generation in ways no one can ever predict. There are as many stories as there are people in the world and Heidi James has generously offered us the chance to read three such extraordinary tales and I highly urge you to buy yourself a copy when the book comes out in August.
The Sound Mirror is out on 20th August, published by Bluemoose Books