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on 17 May 2012
_A Stone's Throw_ tells the story of two boys called Will, and the current of will that connects them through a fractured family history. At the heart of the book is Meg, sister of the first Will and mother of the second; her charged perceptions of life during wartime, and in colonial Africa, sing from the page, winding the reader into the delicate, agile web of emotions and memories that makes up her family's story. The characters are so deftly shaped that you will feel you've met them, but so carefully unfolded that they'll keep surprising you until the end -- which was so absorbing I missed my stop on the bus.
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on 5 August 2013
Well written, with some lovely prose, A STONE'S THROW follows Meg, a young British girl from the time her father left with her brother to when her son stands throwing stones with his teenage daughter at the funeral of his father.

While the writing was tight, with good characterisation of Meg and her husband as a reserved English couple, the themes were too complex for such a short book. I never really got to know the characters, and therefore couldn't relate that well to them. Perhaps that was an intentional technique to emphasize the extreme self-containment needed to sustain a lifetime of British stiff-upper-lip, but it only served to make the characters difficult for me to know.

Meg's husband George, too, was one dimensional as a character - throughout the book we only see him through the eyes of Meg and her son Will, and their view of him was rather harsh. I would have liked to get behind his reserve to find out his thoughts on the compromises he had to make throughout his marriage to Meg.

Interesting enough for me to want to finish it, the first part (up to the end of Meg's boat journey during WW2), was wonderful, but ultimately I was left somewhat frustrated and rather sad at such a passionless existence, although Meg's encouragement of Will to live his life on his terms offered some hope.
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on 1 June 2012
Beginning in the nineteen forties and continuing to the present day, A Stone's Throw is the story of Meg, a woman whose life is blighted by the disappearance of her father and older brother when she was very young and who fails to leave her past behind when she travels to South Africa to make a loveless marriage to an unimaginative but dependable man.

It is also the story of Meg's son, Will, who discovers that he is gay and reaches an accomodation with this knowledge only to lose his lover to a freak accident when he is on the cusp of manhood, an event that overshadows his life and causes him to retreat into a feigned sexual orthodoxy.

This is a novel about the mistakes, compromises and bargains people make, often with themselves, in order to survive. Fiona Shaw's characters inhabit the everyday world uncomfortably, always having to preserve a veneer of normality while struggling with the pain of loss and the burden of the world's expectations. Her prose has a luminosity about it that lends significance to the smallest events. A beautifully written study in regret and its suffocating consequences.
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on 5 May 2012
This is the first Fiona Shaw novel I have read, and I will certainly now be buying her other books. I loved the way story builds up gently over time, introducing Meg first as a young child, then a young woman going to Africa during World War 2 to marry a man she does not love, and onto her son Will as a child, and through to him becoming a father. It makes you think about the choices you make in life and why, and is so beautifully written, emotionally charged and atmospheric, I was hooked from the start, and especially fell in love with Will's character.
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on 7 June 2012
I have read all four of Fiona Shaw's novels now, and each one has had a unique character of its own, unlike many contemporary writers who seem to find a groove and then get stuck in it. Although the story of Meg and her son Will is quietly told in a direct and straightforward style, I can't believe many people would get to the end of this without seriously questioning some aspect of their own lives.
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on 3 June 2012
A Stone's Throw held me from start to finish. Fiona Shaw achieves a strong sense of place and time spanning four generations and two continents. The structure carries the plot at a fast pace via leaps of decades with a sharp focus on pivotal events. The compelling story is conveyed with a spareness of style which at the most dramatic moments is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy, leaving space for the reader to form their own judgements on the characters' decisions.

I was reluctant to let the characters go at the end of this book and look forward to reading more from this accomplished writer.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 5 April 2012
Fiona Shaw's fourth novel: 'A Stone's Throw' is an engrossing multi-layered story of three generations of one family and is set in England and Africa during and after the Second World War. Meg Bryan, a young woman, who is still mourning the loss of her brother, Will, who disappeared with their father when she was a small girl, is sailing out to Africa to marry her fiancé. Her intended George Garrowby, is a sensible and reliable man and, although Meg knows she does not love him, she feels he will make a good husband and give her the security she craves. Whilst on board ship, Meg meets the Richardsons, an older couple who feel it is their duty to look after her, but when Meg escapes their overbearing presence, and has a passionate liaison with a young soldier whom she meets only briefly, we learn that underneath her quiet exterior lies a strength, a passion and a recklessness that maybe even she did not know was there. And when the ship is torpedoed by a German U-Boat, it is Meg's passion and strength that carries her through the terrifying ordeal which follows.

We next find Meg in Africa where we learn what happens to her when she arrives in Kenya,; we read about how she copes with life in a strange and sometimes frightening country; we learn about her children, the first one, Will, who Meg named after her brother, and who is born exactly nine months after her arrival in Kenya. We read how Meg desperately hopes that she will never lose her children or have to mourn for them as she has over the years for her lost brother. And we also discover how, even though some years have passed since her encounter with her young soldier, Meg still thinks of him and is haunted by what might have been. We then move on several years and the family has returned to England and the story mostly focuses on Meg's elder son, Will, now a young man in his late teens and passionately in love. However, after a tragedy befalls Will and his lover, we learn how he tries to cope with the aftermath of this tragic event and how it affects the years following. There is a lot more to this story, but I shall leave that for prospective readers to discover.

Fiona Shaw's novel is an emotionally rich and poignant tale of familial love and of heterosexual love and homosexual love; it is about how we search for love and for understanding and how, when trying to do what is expected of us, we are sometimes forced to make choices and then have to live with the consequences, unless we are brave enough to face up to who we really are and what we really want from life. I read this book in one sitting and found it a well-written, engrossing and entertaining read.

4 Stars

Also recommended by the same author: The Picture She Took
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on 3 June 2012
This is a compelling read, leading from a naive and innocent start through unexpected twists to analysis of life. Following youth through diverse relationships in a natural progression, with explicit sex thrown in.
The simple style is refreshing and easy to read, short sentences, clear print, and flashbacks accentuated in the present tense.
The overall expression of loss and underlying sadness help the reader to get the message. The balance between keeping up appearances and the reality of being true to oneself. Highly recommended.
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on 25 April 2012
This is the third book I've read by Fiona Shaw and it seems to me that in the last two (this and 'Tell it to the Bees') she has really found her style. She manages to describe both characters and events so vividly, yet using minimal words. I read this one very quickly and got completely involved - can't wait for her next book!
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on 5 August 2012
It's the mark of a good story to end up somewhere you didn't expect. A Stone's Throw begins lightly, almost like a children's tale. A dark one, admittedly, of adventure laced with a child's anticipatory anxiety; but also rich in the kind of dull, comforting language adults use to make the world seem safe and knowable, and to hide real experience from children. Like "boys will be boys."

Lulled into initial nonchalance, I found the book's undertow took hold of me by stealth. A steadfast refusal to name and face what matters - as though it could possibly be the point about soldiers on a passenger ship in war-torn waters to know: "were they good at marching?" - the book's adult characters in their various ways maintain a childish pretence that what you choose not to see doesn't exist. This wearying pretence gradually gave way to a lurching awareness of underlying distress. Subterfuge gave way to shipwreck, both literally and emotionally.

This psychologically astute novel deals honestly with loss. Grief is apparently shrouded in stiff-upper-lipped, English, quiet desperation, only to grow the more demanding and destructive. We are shown long shadows cast by personal history - shadows we cannot shake off even as we go about brightly trying to constuct our lives. Unfolding slowly like the reluctant shedding of defences in analysis, A Stone's Throw reveals scene by scene the mechanisms whereby motherly non-responsiveness teaches a child to hide her feelings, and how her learned forbearance will in turn become the vehicle of her own child's harm. It shows how trauma connects across generations, like fairy lights.

The author's poetic ear for exactly the kind of image which can sink or rescue us makes all of this more palpable, providing imaginative crannies into which our own experience can creep an hide. Helpless to comfort her bereaved mother, little Meg turns outwards to find snow, which goes on and on as far as she can see, reflecting all that is bleak and cold in her experience, and our own. Pale suet, heavy in her mouth and hard to swallow at polite dinner, later, stands in for the intolerable prattle of dull companions, for loveless marriage, for all that we know to be deadening.

I recommend this book. It's both a tragedy and a cautionary tale. It reminds us of love and loss. It reminds us that things are not always as they first seem. And that wanting the best for those we love is futile if we cannot be true to ourselves.
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