Miriam Delaney hasn’t left the house for three years, Not after what she did. At the beginning of the novel, she tosses a coin. Heads, she re-enters the world. Three heads thrown later, she comes up with a plan.
- Do something I am afraid of. Apparently this builds confidence (have yet to see evidence of this – will be an interesting experiment)
- Spend next few days clearing out house – get rid of mother’s things
- Leave house next week
She begins by writing a list of things she is afraid of and gets to tackling number thirteen: Naked cleaning.
How scary can it be?
Answer: that depends on your childhood.
It depends on whether, at the age of eight, you found your mother sweeping the floor of the school corridor wearing nothing but a pair of trainer socks. (Had she planned to go for a run and slipped into insanity seconds after putting on her socks? Can madness descend that quickly, like thunder, like a storm?)[…]What made the situation worse, even harder for Miriam to comprehend, was the fact that her mother didn’t even work as a cleaner.
As Miriam builds up to leaving the house the events of the past which haunt her – many of which are to do with her mother – and how she’s managed for the three years in which she hasn’t left the house are slowly revealed.
Whispers Through a Megaphone isn’t just Miriam’s story though, it’s also that of Ralph Swoon and his wife, Sadie. We meet Ralph ensconced in a cabin in the woods with a cat named Treacle.
Feline logic told her that he had dragged himself here to die. Why else would he have turned up in the woods at 11.30p.m. on 4th August with no bag, no possessions, just a wallet, a phone and a guitar.
But the cat was wrong.
He hadn’t come here to die.
Ralph’s a psychotherapist who knows ‘less about his own desires these days than his clients knew about theirs’. He’s been particularly confused since he glimpsed his first love, Julie Parsley, in the local B&Q and promptly walked into a giant garden gnome. Having had their now sixteen-year-old twin boys when he and Sadie were twenty, their relationship’s changed somewhat:
They were fine, they were happy, he could lose her any moment. This was the wordless core of their relationship, known and unknown. Sixteen years later they argued all the time and the sight of her Mini pulling into the driveway, its back seat covered with newspapers and unopened poetry anthologies, had begun to make him queasy.
As Ralph tries to figure out what he wants, Sadie begins to question a decision she made as a student and starts to explore alternatives to her current lifestyle.
Inevitably, Ralph and Miriam meet midway through the story at which point, they tentatively try to help each other through their respective periods of hurt and confusion.
Whispers Through a Megaphone explores the power the past holds over the present, particularly with regards to relationships – romantic and familial. It considers decisions made by other people, particularly Miriam’s mother, which have long resounding impacts on those around them and decisions the protagonists made themselves which, years later, they’re starting to consider the impact of and whether the alternative is now a better option.
The style and tone of the novel reminded me of two books from early 2015: Lost & Found by Brooke Davis and Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper. However, I preferred Whispers Through a Megaphone due to the very dark undertone which comes to the surface in pockets throughout the book.
I found the novel, as a whole, hugely enjoyable. There are moments I would’ve liked to have seen questioned or explored further, such as the early revelation that the headmaster who took Miriam’s naked mother home had sex with her on the kitchen table and then began an affair with her. Although there were consequences for this later on, his taking advantage of a woman with mental health problems wasn’t raised. However, I was largely engrossed by the book. I thought the structure – as it moved between Miriam and Ralph’s stories – and the pace at which secrets and choices were revealed were well timed. The characters were interesting: I was particularly fascinated by Sadie who (bar Miriam’s mother) is the least likeable but the most rounded of the cast. Whispers Through a Megaphone is an offbeat, entertaining read.
Thanks to Pushkin Press for the review copy.