This review is spoiler-free!
This is a story about taking a leap of faith
And believing the unbelievable
They say those we love never truly leave us, and I’ve found that to be true. But not in the way you might expect. In fact, none of this is what you’d expect. I’ve been visiting my mother who died when I was eight.
And I’m talking about flesh and blood, tea-and-biscuits-on-the-table visiting here. Right now, you probably think I’m going mad. Let me explain…
Although Faye is happy with her life, the loss of her mother as a child weighs on her mind even more now that she is a mother herself. So she is amazed when, in an extraordinary turn of events, she finds herself back in her childhood home in the 1970s. Faced with the chance to finally seek answers to her questions – but away from her own family – how much is she willing to give up for another moment with her mother?
Helen Fisher’s Space Hopper has been called ‘the most recommended debut of 2021’ and for good reason. This novel is about mothers and daughters, and how memories alone are not enough to cope with the grief caused by losing a loved one, especially a parent, and that, if given the opportunity, you would do something absolutely insane just to see them again. The unreliability of our memories is also hugely important in the telling of this story. Faye is your ordinary, everyday woman. She works at the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) with her close friend Louis, who is blind and described by Faye as a ‘Big Gay Bear.’ She’s also happily married to Eddie, who is training to become a vicar, and together they have two young daughters: Esther and Evie. But the loss of her mother, Jeanie, as a young girl still haunts her decades later; or as Faye puts it: ‘the loss of my mother is like missing a tooth: an absence I can feel at all times, but one I can hide as long as I keep my mouth shut. And so I rarely talk about her.’
Space Hopper starts out incredibly strong, with Faye addressing the reader directly. She’s a fictional character yet she to talks to us as though we know her personally by quite literally telling us the story of how she came to visit her long-dead mother in the flesh. She knows it sounds impossible, and as though she’s losing her mind, but she wants us to pay close attention anyway. Faye’s insistence on talking to the reader immediately draws you in by making you feel like you’re part of her puzzling tale and not a passive onlooker, as most fiction novels do. This technique makes things feel particularly intimate and personal – like we’re being let in on a monumental secret, and indeed we are.
This novel has a fascinating timeline: Faye is getting us up to speed on her time travelling trips to see her late mother – meaning that these trips are fairly recent, and her escapades are ongoing. Her story is technically unfinished at the moment you first open the book, and we reach the end together with Faye. At times Space Hopper is utterly shocking, as Faye uncovers unexpected secrets about both her childhood and the death of her mother, which has long been shrouded in uncertainty. The second half of this book is by far the superior half, as this is largely when those shocking moments occur. Although, this being said, there were some parts in which I thought Fisher’s writing was grossly inappropriate, such as when Faye describes a 1970s shop as being reminiscent of a ‘g*psy caravan’, or when she rearranges her kitchen cupboard to have labels facing outward ‘like someone with OCD’, and I found this rather offputting.
By the time I finished Space Hopper I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the storyline, and how captivating I found it. Instances such as those previously mentioned, in which Fisher’s descriptions were inappropriate at best and offensive at worst, did make me second-guess the quality of this novel – and to be honest they still do. The initial premise is deeply intriguing, especially as Faye immediately begins talking to the reader as a friend, and as this premise becomes a full-fledged plotline it becomes more and more gripping. The ending of the book is incredibly satisfying, as it offers some explanations for the seemingly-impossible turn of events. The writing is also quite illustrative in its descriptiveness at some points, such as when Faye colours to Louis by comparing them to physical feelings. This novel is an extraordinary exploration of mother-daughter relationships, and how one never quite recovers from the loss of a loved one. I would recommend Space Hopper to anyone who would enjoy an enchanting, vaguely historical, and slightly science-fiction tale about mothers and their daughters, about love and loss; though be warned that some moments in the book are insensitively written to say the least.