A Stone’s Throw by Fiona Shaw

12th Nov 2012


Starting with abandonment and ending with a revelation, it is a novel about secrets, how they affect families, and the importance of living your own life.

Reeling from the disappearance of her father and brother years earlier, Meg journeys alone to Africa during the Second World War to join her fiancé George, whom she knows she does not love, but who can offer her security and an escape from her lonely life with her mother.

On the ship, Meg encounters solider Jim, who makes her rethink the choice she has made. But before she can re-evaluate her life disaster strikes, the ship is sunk, and Meg must survive the best she can.

This is the sort of book that it is hard to review without massive spoilers, as the stories of Meg, and later her son Will, are so reliant on the ways in which random events can affect a life.

As the decisions Meg makes on the boat impact on Will’s future, the theme of choices – and the reasons we make them – become more and more important.

The first half of the book, Meg’s story, is a lot tighter and more profound than her son’s. The writing is beautiful, in the same vein as Helen Dunmore’s Mourning Ruby or early Sarah Dunant.

Her characters never leap off the page, but I liked this about them – their very English reserve means we never really get to know them, but only see fragments of their lives and must make our judgements on the basis of their key decisions. This is a very stripped-back book.

Although A Stone’s Throw has its faults, it is a very good read. I read most of it on two long train journeys and it completely sucked me: the pace and plotting is exemplary. Although Shaw’s themes and devices are slightly obvious (five stories, five elements, five skims of the stone) it is a pleasure to read a clever, well-structured book that doesn’t make you want to tear out your hair or feel like it’s going slightly over you head.

I saw Fiona Shaw speak at Morley Literature Festival last month and her passion for writing and her ever-growing talent shone through. Her previous novels are available through Kindle, and her last novel Tell It To The Bees is also available in paperback. I very much look forward to reading more of her.

A Stone’s Throw is out now in paperback from Foyles, Amazon or your local independent bookshop priced at £11.99.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended for: Fans of Helen Dunmore, Ann Patchett, Marilynne Robinson, and Rose Tremain.

Other recommended reading: This reminded me of a more literary Thorn Birds, the ultimate family saga.

Jess Haigh