Book Review: Ruby by Cynthia Bond


Shortlisted for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction 2016 and one of my favourite books of the year (not just because the name of the book is also my name ūüėÄ).

There is no way to describe this book without mentioning ‘magical realism’. ¬†This book touches on the supernatural, demons and possession of other worldly spirits however, that is not the real story here. ¬†Underneath that fantastically woven darkly magical tale is a story of racism, religion, prejudices of all counts, patience, love and survival.

We meet a girl, Ruby, who for all intents and purposes we are led to believe is crazy. ¬†Ruby endures all manner of horrors from when she is a small child right up to adulthood – we also meet her ancestors and learn of their fate: not much better. ¬†The narrative explores how the protagonist’s behaviours are marked and altered by the atrocities afflicted upon her. ¬†Ultimately, it affects her in ways the reader hopes it won’t. ¬†Don’t be fooled into thinking this book will leave you crying and wanting to slit your wrists – it is deep, but endearing and at times funny.

I don’t want spoil the drama and the plot behind this book but I would like to share some of the areas which I adored and will stay with me for a long while (I read this book around six months ago and I still think of it!):

  1. Bond use of the town’s name of Liberty is a clever subtly juxtaposition of how the residents actually live and feel. ¬†They are far from liberal – prejudices run deep and almost thwarts a blossoming love story all due to fear of the unknown.
  2. In a book with a female protagonist who, as a result of need rather than want, is an independent strong woman (stronger than one can imagine) there is also an equally strong male character (who becomes stronger as the story develops). ¬†The reader meets Ephram and is instantly made aware that him and his sister have this almost destructive co-dependant relationship with one another (again, one borne out of necessity) however, Ephram stands up to this matriarchal sister and the townspeople to follow his one true passion: Ruby. ¬†To say it is the little guy standing up for himself would not do Bond’s poetic narrative any justice.
  3. There are some harrowing scenes in the book and ones that made me feel extremely uncomfortable to the point I was racing to the end of the paragraph to hope it would end.  And it did end, albeit temporarily.  Bond takes you right to the edge and brings you back with hope, beauty and love.
  4. I almost cried at Bond’s description of Ephram combing Ruby’s now crazy, frazzled hair. ¬†The words were just exquisite. ¬†My culture considers hair to be powerful and connected with the soul and reading this was almost like Bond was touching on a very personal matter (of course she wasn’t but you know what I mean!). ¬†I loved it so much I have quoted some of the text below:

Then Ruby’s hair began to do more than guide Ephram’s hands, it began to guide his heart. ¬†It spoke to him in feelings. ¬†Each strand holding a story, each knot an event. ¬†Trapped bundles of thought, released. ¬†Her youth lived at the ends of her hair. ¬†Her present life near her scalp…

I was lucky to meet Bond at the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction reading at Cadogan Hall on 7 June before the announcement of the winner. It’s hard to believe that this is her debut novel as the skill and confidence in which she writes is something most seasoned authors fail to grasp. This year’s shortlist was just outstanding (blog post on this due shortly).
This post is probably a little late to the party seeing as the winner was announced in June but, as I mentioned earlier, it really is one of the best books I have read this year (together with two of the other shortlisted novels: A Little Life and the winner, Glorious Heresies).

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