Book review: Whispers Through a Megaphone by Rachel Elliott

Every now and then comes a literary voice that is truly original…

Tuesday, 6th October 2015, 12:58 pm
Whispers Through a Megaphone by Rachel Elliott
Whispers Through a Megaphone by Rachel Elliott

Often, it is not just the story of a novel that impresses but the manner in which it is written and the extraordinary reach and resonance of its content.

Writer and psychotherapist Rachel Elliott has worked in arts and technology journalism and her writing has featured in a variety of publications, from digital arts magazines to the French Literary Review, but Whispers Through a Megaphone is her first novel.

It is a remarkable achievement – fresh, invigorating, intelligent, inspirational and perceptive – and comes from ONE, a new imprint of Pushkin Press, which is publishing one exceptional fiction or non-fiction title per season, selected and edited by Elena Lappin, an experienced literary scout and magazine and book editor.

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Lappin chooses the best writing by new or established authors whose extraordinary voices, talent and vision deserve a wide readership and media focus, and there could be no better choice than Elliott’s acutely observant and intensely human account of two people teetering on the edge of a mental precipice as they struggle to connect with their inner selves, the people around them and the vagaries of the modern world.

Harnessing her experience and knowledge as a psychotherapist, Elliott explores what it means to exist outside the bubble of Facebook, Twitter and the bewildering and addictive world of social media which too often alienates its users from reality.

Miriam Delaney is 35, hasn’t left her comfortable, suburban house for three years and can only whisper. Her late mother Frances, ‘mad as a spoon’ and unrelentingly abusive, didn’t like noise, normality or love so Miriam learned never to raise her voice.

But buried deep inside Miriam there is a ‘stranger’ aching to get out, ‘the same age but louder, the same height but taller.’ She could be an artist, a midwife, a waitress, a driver, a baker, a scientist, a woman who receives invitations, a woman who receives compliments. The problem is no-one knows she’s there.

Things are about to change though. Miriam is eager to stop living in the shadow of her dead mother and wants and do normal things like shopping and Zumba. She is finally ready to rejoin the world outside her front window.

Meanwhile, Ralph Swoon, an unassuming, 37-year-old psychotherapist with a wife and 16-year-old twin sons, has suddenly realised that he ‘knows less about his own desires these days than his clients know about theirs.’

In fact, one of his clients knows more about his Twitter addicted wife Sadie than he does and he has opened a closet door only to discover with a shock that Sadie doesn’t love him, and never has. So he has run away to the woods with nothing but a few belongings and is holed up in a hut with a ginger cat called Treacle.

One stormy day, Miriam and Ralph have a chance meeting and begin an unusual and restorative friendship, while Sadie takes a break from Twitter to embark on an intriguing adventure of her own.

With Ralph’s gentle help, Miriam begins to gain new confidence and as their lives unfold, each of them seeks to better understand where their affections really lie, refusing to timidly accept their lot and gradually moving forward into a better and more truthful future.

Elliott packs her enchanting and soul-searching story with a mixed bag of ordinary and extraordinary characters – from the marvellous Miriam and sexually ambivalent Sadie to mixed-up midlife crisis Ralph. Each has a fascinating story to tell; each is desperately seeking love, and a resolution to the chaos which is engulfing their lives.

Miriam’s desperate, disturbing childhood and years of oppression under her controlling and abusive mother should make Whispers Through a Megaphone a dark and depressing read. But Elliott’s sparkling prose, warmth, wit and understanding of human frailty make this a journey of discovery full of unexpected joy, humour and hope.

An extraordinary debut…

(ONE, hardback, £12.99)