The Tell Tale by Clare Ashton ~ my review

This is an extraordinary work of historical fiction and thriller with more lesbian romances set in the 1970’s in a Welsh small town called Foel. The world seems to have stopped in Foel, patriarchy rules the small village, while strange things happen, that not even the lady of the manor can do a thing to stop it.

The title “The Tell Tale” puts on display the climax of the story, the matchbox that ignites the fire within the fog and the secrets of Foel.

On the cover, there is a young woman with a 1970’s outfit in teal. The whole cover is actually teal.

It reminded me of nurse Ratched (a cold, heartless tyrant, the stereotype of the nurse as the battleaxe) from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest by Ken Kelsey.

“The color teal combines the calming properties of blue with the renewal qualities of green. It is a revitalizing and rejuvenating color that also represents open communication and clarity of thought. For Tibetan monks, teal is symbolic of the infinity of the sea and sky, while it is the color of the truth and faith for Egyptians.” (www.canva.com)

I incline to go with the Egyptians , I believe teal is the color of truth and faith and I believe that the woman in teal from the cover is the one who will uncover Foel’s secrets and the truth will prevail trough her.

From the first line and from the first metaphors that the reader envisions, the fear is omnipresent, the tension between the characters grows stronger and stronger through images alone, even without many words exchanged between the characters (it subdues them). Foel is still a small village, but it harbors a big secret: teenagers Alwyn’s and Elin’s runaway.

It’s like seeing Twin Peaks all over again.

None is who they say they are in Foel.

The reader won’t ever find comfort here.

I loved the fact that Clare Ashton made Foel “her playground”, all it’s inhabitants are her characters and it’s not an easy development of the plot nor a simple growth of the characters, is the change of their whole world.

They are grown-ups now, but throughout the plot, the reader learns many things about them from childhood and teenage years through flashbacks, keeping the suspense going.

 They are Agatha Christie’s kind of characters.

The reader is introduced in a rather eerie atmosphere from the start, when two characters return as grown-ups in Foel : Lady Sophie Melling and Bethan Griffiths , while they have spent their childhood here, they left it running away from it without looking back. And none of them is happy to have returned and they have returned from different reasons from the ones they say they do.

I liked the fact that this is a little detective story also, clues and suspicions are at every corner, but they don’t point to a character or even if they do they are vague enough to keep the mystery going.

Lady Sophie Melling returned to Foel after her father’s death (Lord Berwyn) to take care of the estate and to organize the Christmas party, which was the upper class’s yearly duty, because they kept the forest from the inhabitants of the village. She has lived for a long time in London as a closeted lesbian, beside her gay husband Daniel. I liked that she isn’t who she seems, she is a sort of an ice queen, but she is not. Also, I found it funny how she had to buy her own cigarettes.

Bethan “Beth” Griffits has returned to Foel as a single mother to her daughter (a shame in 1971, of which her father keep reminding her), to take care for her ailing mother and help her father, the town’s policeman (sergeant).

Sophie and Beth and another girl, the beautiful Elin were classmates and Beth and Elin were best friends, while Sophie was the upper class girl, whom Elin help integrate. Also, Alwyn was a sweet young man with no reason to escape.

Beth seems to be the main character, as the story deepens with her arrival in Foel together with her daughter. There are many things that stayed the same, but also, many things have changed. She meets her old friend Meg, who loves to see her back, yet the other villagers are not so thrilled to see her back.

Beth and Sophie aren’t friends.

They are old acquaintances who discover they have something in common.

There are a lot of ugly situations women are involved into, they are mistreated and sidelined, even when the men don’t have power over them, with just harsh words the women are dismissed.

Sexism and homophobia are palpable from the beginning until the end of the story.

But the secret message behind it, is Meg’s shout-out: “What the bloody hell is wrong with you all. All I hear is how wonderful Alwyn was. [..]Elin is dead!! The woman is bloody dead and all I hear are excuses for him.” (enpower your daughters, stop defending your sons)

At seventeen, Elin Mathews was the beauty of Foel, she was like an angel, everyone loved her, she was beautiful inside out, as Beth’s best friend and helping Sophie integrate. She doesn’t know who her father is, because she has only met her mother Myfanwy “Myf”, who was a single mother and they were somehow marginalized by the people in Foel.

And, one day she fled with Alwyn (hear, hear Laura Palmer).

And, they all blamed Elin (following in her mother’s footsteps).

Megan “Meg” Jones is a colleague of Beth, Sophie, Elin and Alwyn, who still lives in Foel. She is maybe Beth’s only friend as a grown-up. Meg is a fountain of happiness and a bubbling presence.

Glynnis Gittins is the town’s gossiper.

Carys is Lady Sophie Melling’s incredible housekeeper, who seems to be more helpful in manly things than her own husband. (Carys is an awesome character)

Bryn Thomas rules the town.

Bryn Thomas is a far cousin of Lady Melling’s father and wants the manor her father has promised him.

Bryn Thomas is the villain of the plot. He owns the town, yet he doesn’t own what he wants most: Lady Sophie Melling’s manor. He seems friendly with everyone, but he is horrible to his wife and his son, Geraint. He also has shouting matches with Sophie where he is very mean. A terrible man. And he seems to influence all the others.

Rhian Thomas is Bryn’s obsolete wife, addicted to pills and she seems to have lost it after her oldest son Alwyn has left. I hated the way Bryn treated his wife, he was disgusting. A true villain.

Alwyn Thomas is the beautiful and strong teenager, who wouldn’t hurt a fly and who loved his mother to the moon and back, of course he was Rhian’s absolute favorite son, her guiding light in the dark, yet he didn’t want to become his father’s mirror image. He was the rugby star at school and very much loved there, also seemed to be Sophie’s crush.

Geraint Thomas is Bryn’s and Rhian’s younger son and Alwyn’s little brother, whom none likes, he is a strange man, who seems to be his father’s servant and has a little obsession with Beth, since she returned to Foel.

Things intensify in Foel, when people start receiving notes by someone who seems well educated and is using old fashioned ink. Those notes tell the truth about everyone or they’re mocking some villagers. Glynnis got it first, then Sophie, then Beth. Beth notes become stranger. The tell tale begins.

I won’t spoil any clues, nor the secrets, nor the small hints which make the characters unveil themselves to the reader, after receiving the notes.

It is a very nice build story, where the reader doesn’t have the time to breath between the suspense and the small hints and the viciousness of the dominant males.

This is a story where the truth prevails and it will take down the men who think they have the power over Foel and its inhabitants.

I liked the Welsh expressions, Clare Ashton slipped in the text, while still translating them, without repeating herself, so that the reader won’t get bored.

I found it great, that the author has also added to the book’s themes the Welsh Not (WN). Welsh kids weren’t allowed to speak their own language in lessons, they should speak only English and they were stigmatized for doing the prior.

I adored the thriller, the suspense, the intensity of the fear and the unveiling of the characters through little clues and the fact that the secret is kept until the end.

The characters are unique and complex, because the reader sees them as grown-ups in the plot, but also, gets a glimpse of their childhood and teenage years from the flashbacks slipped through the plot. Also, they are not who they seem to be, a perfect thriller, everyone thinks they know everyone, but they don’t. They’re actually the opposite of who everyone thinks they are. Yet, the truth will prevail.

A marvelous book.

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