Review Blog

Mar 31 2010

Solace of the Road by Siobhan Dowd

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David Fickling, 2010.
(Ages: 12+) Highly recommended. I shed a few tears on finishing Solace of the Road, partly because of the sheer power of Dowd's writing, but also because this is the last time any of us will have the privilege of reading a new novel by this talented writer.
Holly Hogan's story is a familiar one. She is a child in care who has lost contact with her Mam, fallen in with the wrong crowd and is getting into trouble at school. Her saving grace is Miko, the key worker who has defended and supported her over many years. However, Miko gets a new job north of the river and Holly knows that once he leaves all contact with him will end. Miko encourages Holly to go for a foster placement with quiet Ray and buttoned up Fiona. Holly does move in with them, but miserable at losing Miko and longing to return to Ireland to find her Mam, she decides to run away.
Holly, complete with blonde wig, assumes the persona of Solace and travels the A40 from London to Fishguard and the Irish ferry. She meets many people in this road trip novel and one of the Dowd's strengths lies in her remarkable ability to bring all these people to life. There are no shadowy minor characters here; even the boy on the motorbike with his mirror visor, whose name we never learn, is raw and real as we share Holly's journey to reach her mother.
Holly doesn't really know who she is and therefore chooses to become someone else. Solace is older and brimming with confidence, but as Holly allows her memories to return, the misery and isolation of her chaotic upbringing are brought into sharp focus, causing a collision of forces that lead to a nail-biting climax. The gritty final chapters had me on the edge of my seat and the cathartic ending resulted in more than a few tears. I felt I lived this journey with Holly, who ultimately decides that returning to herself is better than living as Solace.  This is a novel of pathos, humour and hope. Read it and savour it. We may mourn the loss of Siobhan Dowd, but what a fabulous legacy she leaves behind.
Claire Larson

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