Review of The Tell Tale by Clare Ashton
In my recent review of Finding Jessica Lambert, I was singing praises of Clare Ashton’s versatility in writing different genres. Ms. Ashton can write rom-coms, dramas, traditional romance… Now I can add mysteries and historical fiction to this list. It amazes me when authors can tackle a diversity of genres and, in this case, all with fantastic results.
In the early 1970s, Beth Griffiths goes back home with her daughter to her small town in Wales after years of absence. A few months later, different people in the village start receiving anonymous notes revealing their secrets. But when Beth starts receiving hers it seems that they are revealing a mystery from the past…
Wow, I’m incredibly impressed by Ms. Ashton’s talents, so much so that I’m running out of compliments. This novel is so hard to categorise, it’s a mystery, it’s historical fiction, and there’s romance too. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter because despite these labels Ms. Ashton manages to produce an epic feminist tale that will grab you by the throat, put a lump there, and make you hold your breath until the very end. There are few books in lesfic that have the ability to rip your heart off and put it under a shoe (in the words of poet Miguel Hernández), stories that will stay with you for a long while, if not forever, and this is one of them.
This novel is set in a Welsh rural town in the early 1970s, though it could have been set almost anywhere. As in every small town, people’s private lives are everyone else’s business, gossip that opens doors to ostracism, power imbalance and injustice. Not everyone is judged with the same severity, this is the 1970s and if you think that gender and sexual orientation inequalities are bad now, think again. Women were considered second-class citizens who should stay at home and serve their husbands, treated as sexual objects, or regarded as evil temptresses who shouldn’t provoke men or else deserve what they get. Queers were seen as unnatural and an abhorrence of nature. I was a little girl in the 70s and let me tell you, Ms. Ashton isn’t exaggerating at all.
Fortunately, the other side of homophobia, misogynism, and injustice are women and queer empowerment, it’s the ability to make one’s voice be heard above the judgemental cries of the masses. The Tell Tale shows that empowerment at its best and against all odds, it gives hope that honour, friendship, and ultimately love can conquer it all.
The Tell Tale is unique in so many ways and the setting is one of them. Ms. Ashton’s depiction of rural Wales is the perfect background for the mystery in its desolation, inhospitable landscape, and gloomy weather. Even the random power cuts contribute to the dark tone. Funny how different is the depiction of the same nation if we compare it with Ashton’s romance Poppy Jenkins, also set in a small town in Wales. Two sides of the same coin that the author knows well, as she was brought up in Wales.
Mysteries are hard to write and need to have a consistent and tight plot without loose ends and, at the same time, give some hints to the reader without giving it away. Ms. Ashton did an excellent job in weaving a complex web of intrigue. The novel is written from four different points of view and has multiple characters and suspects, a considerable amount of information that finally makes sense at the very end. The author has the reader turning pages until the last page. And what an ending it is, absolutely fantastic. This novel would make a great movie, just saying. 5 stars.
ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.